Hawks ‘not ready’ for Heat, so they get humbled

Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro blocks Atlanta Falcons guard Trae Young during the first half of Game One of the first-round playoff series against at FTX Arena on Sunday, April 17, 2022, in Miami. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro blocks Atlanta Falcons guard Trae Young during the first half of Game One of the first-round playoff series against at FTX Arena on Sunday, April 17, 2022, in Miami. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: TNS

MIAMI— Trae Young went chest-to-chest with Jimmy Butler, Hawks star vs. Heat star.

Butler grabbed Young’s neck after Young fouled him to prevent a fast break early in the game. Young didn’t back down from the much bigger man and delivered a head butt to Butler’s shoulder. This was going to be a hotly contested playoff game with Young embracing his villain role on the road.

It turned out Young and the Hawks were all talk, no action.

The Hawks played their way into the playoffs with two victories and declared they were ready to go on another run. Then they no-showed in Miami on Sunday afternoon. Young had the worst playoff performance of his young career as the Heat buried the Hawks early and never let up.

“They played with way more intensity than we did, and we were not ready,” Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari said. “They did it from the beginning of the game and we never matched it.”

The Hawks deserved this 115-91 defeat. They knew Miami would play aggressive, physical defense. They knew that over-helping on drives meant giving the Heat’s shooters too much space. Most of all, the Hawks knew they’d have to raise their level of play against the Eastern Conference’s top seed at FTX Arena.

How could the Hawks not be prepared to do that?

“I have no idea why we were not ready,” Gallinari said. “We are supposed to be ready.”

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is at Miami on Tuesday. The Hawks need to win at least once game here to advance. They provided little evidence in Game 1 that they can do it. They were a great road team in last year’s playoffs but, already, this year isn’t like last year.

The Hawks opened with road victories in each of their three 2021 postseason series. They ambushed the Knicks, Sixers and Bucks with Young averaging 38.3 points and 10.3 assists. The Hawks did the same thing at Cleveland on Friday to earn passage from play-in to playoffs.

The Heat weren’t going to let that happen. They are hungry after getting swept by Milwaukee in last year’s first round. The Heat were rested and ready for the Hawks after a week-long break.

The Hawks played two games in two cities in less than 48 hours. Hawks coach Nate McMillan cut off a question about fatigue being a factor in his team’s performance.

“No, no, I don’t think it’s tired legs,” he said. “Miami played at another level., ,,, They played with high intensity and aggressiveness on every possession. They showed us that there is another level we have to get to in order to compete in these playoffs.”

The Hawks should know that. All the key players on the roster were also part of team that went to the 2021 East finals. The tired excuse doesn’t work for the Hawks because the Heat buried them from the start.

Miami led by as many as 21 points in the first half and were up 59-40 at the break. The had 18 points in the paint on 15 shots, and that’s with a few misses on easy attempts. Onyeka Okongwu did his best to protect the basket, but this was a job for Clint Capela. Capela is out with a knee injury and it’s uncertain when he’ll be able to play in this series.

The Heat made 10 of 19 3-point tries before halftime. They could have shot a lot worse and still dominated this game.

“Defensively, we never really established that we could stop them,” McMillan said.

At the other end, the Hawks spent much of the shot clock dribbling and passing on the perimeter while creating few good shots. Young was out of sorts. He was missing his signature floaters, bricking 3-pointers and flinging lob passes into the backboard. The Heat cut off his drives by switching on picks, trapping him and crowding him with big defenders.

Plenty of opponents use a similar strategy against the Hawks. Few of them executed it as well as the Heat. Young scored a playoffs-low eight points while missing 11 of 12 shots and committing six turnovers with four assists.

All the Hawks had going in the first half were post-ups by Gallinari and frequent trips to the free-throw line. Gallinari was 4 of 8 shooting while his teammates were a combined 7 of 30. The Hawks had eight turnovers against one assist. Any hope they could rally was quickly extinguished by Miami’s 14-6 run to begin the third quarter.

Young saved the Hawks in Cleveland with 32 points in the second half. They needed another spectacular performance from him to win this game. Young didn’t have it in him this time.

“I’m very confident we are going to turn this around,” Young said.

The only good thing the Hawks got out of this game was the return of forward John Collins. He’d been out since since March 11 with injures to a foot and finger. Collins should with rebounding, defense at the rim and shooting from the perimeter. But that won’t matter if the Hawks don’t show up ready to play.

We’ve seen the Hawks get knocked down in the playoffs and get back up.

They had a chance to clinch their 2021 semifinal series against the Sixers at home but lost. They went to Philly and clinched the series, anyway. The Hawks lost Game 2 of the 2021 East finals at Milwaukee by a margin of 34 points, then lost Game 3 at home. The Hawks beat the Bucks in Game 4 without Young before losing the series in six games as he played on a bad ankle.

But that was last year’s playoffs. Already, this year is different for the Hawks.

“Offensive side of the floor, defensive side of the floor, we just didn’t bring it tonight (and) they did,” Gallinari said. “We flush this one and think about the next one.”