Back to reality for Hawks, who aren’t good enough to best Heat

Hawks players react at the end of Game 4 on Sunday night at State Farm Arena. Miami won 110-86 and lead the series 3-1. (Hyosub Shin /



Hawks players react at the end of Game 4 on Sunday night at State Farm Arena. Miami won 110-86 and lead the series 3-1. (Hyosub Shin /

The furious Hawks comeback against the Heat in Game 3 gave them new life. They were back in the Eastern Conference first-round series. Trae Young finally made plays at winning time. No team has ever won a best-of-seven series after being down 3-0. Plenty have overcome 2-1.

But that big Game 3 rally wasn’t a harbinger for the Hawks making this a competitive series. It was a reprieve. Without that comeback, Miami would have swept them. The Heat dominated the Hawks in Game 4 at State Farm Arena just like they did in the first two games in Miami.

The Hawks were competitive for a quarter of Game 4 on Sunday night. It was all Miami after that. The 110-86 loss means the Hawks face elimination in Game 5 on Tuesday in South Florida. They had to go all-out to come back and win Game 3 by one point. They lost the other three games by margins of 24, 10 and 24 points.

The Hawks have yet to make Miami feel them defensively in this series. The Heat haven’t let Young get loose, save for his strong finish to Game 3. It was back to reality for Young and the Hawks on Sunday. They earned the East’s eight seed with two play-in victories, but they just aren’t good enough to best top-seeded Miami in a best-of-seven.

The Hawks led 26-25 after a quarter. They extended the lead to eight points in the second quarter. Then the Heat used a 26-4 run to take control. Miami let the Hawks back into Game 3 after a 21-0 run in the third quarter. This time, the Heat kept them down.

Bogdan Bogdanovic saved the Hawks with his shot-making in Game 3. I figured coach Nate McMillan would lean heavily on Bogdanovic in Game 4. Instead, Bogdanovic played just 12 minutes in the first half even as the offense stalled during Miami’s big run over the last six-plus minutes of the first half.

Bogdanovic ended up playing 21 minutes, seventh most on the team. McMillan wouldn’t say whether Bogdanovic was dealing with an injury. That’s the only good explanation for why Atlanta’s best shooter in this series stayed on the bench for so long.

After Bogdanovic left the game in the second quarter, the Hawks failed to score for seven straight possessions and 10 of the next 12. They led 37-29 when he went to the bench. They were behind 48-41 when Bogdanovic returned. The Hawks couldn’t score on their final five possessions of the half, either. That’s 15 empty possessions in their last 17 before halftime.

The Hawks were stagnant. There was little off-ball movement. McMillan cited the same problems in Game 4 as he did after Games 1 and 2. The Hawks didn’t make Miami’s defense move. They settled for jump shots. They didn’t attack the switches.

Few teams can survive that kind of offensive production. The Hawks especially can’t do it. They need to score at a high clip to beat good teams because their defense isn’t reliable. The Heat have pretty much created all the good shots they want in this series. In Game 4, they found easy passage to the basket while scoring 48 points in the paint.

While the Hawks labored to score, the Heat got easy chances. Their 26-4 run included seven scores near the basket and seven free throws. Just like Game 3, the Hawks could do little right during Miami’s big spurt. There would be no comeback this time.

When the Heat’s advantage shrank to eight points in the third quarter, they scored the next nine points. Miami led 80-61 at the end of the third quarter. The margin was 94-78 when McMillan officially surrendered by pulling his starters. Many of the Hawks fans in the arena had given up long before then.

The Heat blew out the Hawks without starting point guard Kyle Lowry. Gabe Vincent replaced him in the lineup. He’d done good work as the primary defender against Young early in the season, but that was in limited minutes. Now he had to take a longer shift against Young.

Vincent did well with his assignment. He had a lot of help. Young is a hard problem to solve, but the Heat have done it so far. They’ve limited both his scoring and playmaking. They’ve trapped him and switched on screens to prevent him from driving and dared Young to shoot over them.

Young had nine points in Game 4 while missing 8 of 11 shots. Just one of those attempts was in the paint. For the series, Young is 20-for-57 from the field, including 7-for-33 on 3-pointers. He’s got 24 assists and 24 turnovers.

Young rolled his ankle in the first quarter Sunday but said it wasn’t as bad as previous injuries. Miami’s defense was the bigger problem.

“I haven’t been guarded like this, consistently, since high school,” Young said. “Obviously, it’s way better competition (now), so it’s hard to score through the face guards and double teams at this level. It’s a challenge for me.

“I’ve got to learn how to fight through it for myself and my teammates. I’ll figure it out.”

I believe Young will do that eventually. It just won’t happen this year.

Young was great in his playoffs debut in 2021. The Heat have more long, switchable and physical defenders than any team he faced during that run. They are well-drilled by coach Erik Spoelstra and buy into an organizational culture that emphasizes defense. The Heat aren’t the kind of team that will blow a 3-1 series lead.

The Hawks don’t have a group that will make history. They’ve faced a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series 15 previous times in their Atlanta history. They went on to lose each time. Overall, the 327 NBA teams that faced a 2-0 deficit in best-of-seven series before this year won just 25 times.

The 2021-22 Hawks won’t become the 26th to do it. Atlanta’s Game 3 comeback was a temporary setback for the Heat, who are the much better team.