Countless fans no doubt tuned into the TNT broadcast of the Miami Heat visiting the Atlanta Hawks Thursday night expecting to see LeBron James and Dwyane Wade trying to avenge Miami's only loss of the young season. But instead of James and Dwyane starting on the wings for Miami, it was James (Jones) and Shane (Battier), as the Heat super-duo each sat out with bad left wheels. Wade was missing his second straight game with a sore foot, while James turned his ankle against Indiana Wednesday night.
No team in the NBA is more superstar-centric than the Heat, and with apologies to Chris Bosh, James and Wade are the stars that drive that team. So one might expect that, on the road against an Atlanta team that is ostensibly a serious contender in the Eastern Conference, the depleted Heat would be in over their heads. Instead, they battled and scrapped through regulation and three overtimes to come away with a hard-fought 116-109 victory.
In the absence of his super friends, Bosh stepped up for the Heat, with a game-high 33 points and 14 rebounds. His three-pointer with 0.6 seconds left in regulation forced the game into its first overtime. The other regular starter for the Heat, Mario Chalmers (because let's face it, Joel Anthony is more of a placeholder than anything else), also had a big game with 29 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
But for a hoops junkie, the fascination in this game lay with a couple of unknowns getting their first real shots at NBA basketball. For the Heat, rookie guard Terrel Harris played 44 minutes, scored nine points and grabbed 14 rebounds. His NBA career before Thursday had consisted of 15 minutes total. Since his college days at Oklahoma State ended a couple seasons ago, he's been in the NBA D-League and the German league -- but on Thursday he played 44 minutes in the place of Dwyane Wade.
For the Hawks, it was Ivan Johnson stepping into the limelight. Johnson is a 27-year-old rookie who played his college ball at that D-II powerhouse Cal State San Bernadino (go Coyotes!) and then spent several years in the D-League and goodness knows where else. The Hawks were completely without purpose until midway through the third quarter when Johnson entered the game with his team trailing by 10. By the end of the quarter, the game was tied and he finished the game a team-high +17 in 21 minutes. Unlike Harris, who was getting significant minutes in the absence of two starters, Johnson made a case tonight that he needs to be a fixture in the Atlanta rotation.
Because let's face it, the Hawks' starters stunk up the place tonight. Only one of them made better than 35 percent of his shots -- and for some unknown reason, they only managed to get seven shots for Al Horford (he made five of them). In contrast, Joe Johonson (7-20), Josh Smith (6-17), Jeff Teague (1-12) and Marvin Williams (2-10) all took more shots than Horford, while combining to shoot 27 percent. There may not be any excuse for losing to a Heat team without its two best players, but 27 percent from the guys taking the bulk of your shots goes a long way to explaining it. Weren't we told a couple of seasons ago that Josh Smith had matured, that he no longer settled for long jumpers? You certainly could not say that looking at his shot chart on Thursday.
Though a little shorter than usual, it's still a long season, and in the end this is just one game of 66. But Atlanta has now lost two straight that they really should have won against East contenders. If the Hawks expect to contend themselves, they can ill-afford to give games away.
With the win, the Heat improve to a league best 7-1, while the Hawks drop to 4-3.