Five observations from the Hawks’ 103-95 victory over the Heat Wednesday.
1. Paul Millsap said it best. How badly did the Hawks need the victory that snapped a seven-game losing streak? "As bad as we need air," he said. "Hell, we needed that."
The Hawks won for just the second time in the past 12 games. It’s a start for a team that dipped two games below .500 after a 9-2 start.
“He’s right,” Dwight Howard said. “That’s all we’ve been thinking about since the last game, how we could come in and get this game. I thought our effort and our energy were in the right place and we got a good win.”
2. The Hawks had better ball movement. There is room for improvement. They assisted on 27 of 43 field goals. A good sign that the Hawks are moving the ball is the number of inside shots that Howard gets – including lobs. If the Hawks force teams to scramble defensively, they cannot commit several players to Howard. The center is then able to roll to the basket. Howard had three alley-oop dunks and five tip-ins.
“We feel like if we have better ball movement and they get it after there is movement, they have a better chance of scoring instead of just force feeding it in, them against the world,” Kyle Korver said.
3. The Hawks dominated the game inside. They finished with a 58-26 advantage in points in the paint. That was impressive considering the rebound and shot blocking machine Hassan Whiteside patrolling the paint for the Heat.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said the inside game was not an emphasis of the Hawks but a byproduct of the flow of the game and the team’s ball movement.
“Dwight and Paul just put their stamp on the game,” he said.
Much of the credit also goes to the guards. Dennis Schroder, Tim Hardaway Jr., Malcolm Delaney and Korver made some outside shots and drove to the basket. That opened up the offense for Howard and Millsap to roll to the basket.
4. Whiteside has been a thorn in the Hawks' side. He had 19 point, 25 rebound game against the Hawks in Miami in November. The Heat center finished with just eight points and 12 rebounds. He had just four points and six rebounds at the half. In that November game, a Hawks win, Whiteside had 10 offensive rebounds. He had just three Wednesday.
5. The Hawks controlled most of the game. The Heat held just one lead, 5-4 minutes into the game. The Hawks had leads of 11 points in the first quarter, 15 in the second quarter,
15 in the third quarter and 14 in the fourth quarter. Each time, the Heat trimmed their deficit to single digits.
“It seemed like they would have a player – whether it was (Wayne) Ellington or (Tyler) Johnson – get hot for a stretch. Some were tough shots. We weren’t converting on the other end. You have one or two guys make two or three 3’s in a row and all of a sudden your double-digit lead is at six. It felt like they had spurts, almost individual spurts. We were able to hold them off.”
The Hawks coach and his players all pointed to the slippage as a reason the Hawks can be better. The fact that the Heat were missing six players was a major reason for the observation.
The Heat trimmed the deficit to three points, 83-80, with 7:06 left. That’s when Thabo Sefolosha stepped up – literally. The newly anointed starter dunked a Mike Muscala miss. It started an 11-0 run that put the game away.
“I saw him shooting,” Sefolosha said. “There was a little bit of a scramble. Both of the bigs were out (of the paint) so I wanted to go rebound and the ball bounced the right way.”