March 7, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) drives to the basket against Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse (42) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
LeBron James goes for 31 points and 11 rebounds as the Heat's defense fuels a come from behind victory over the Hawks.
The Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks have had an interesting series of games this season. The Hawks won the first meeting, way back in early January, in a game that stands as one of only two home defeats for the Heat this season. The second meeting occurred in Atlanta, and the Heat played without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, both out with injuries. Atlanta should have won handily, but instead the Heat won a thriller in triple overtime. The third meeting resulted in an easier Heat win in Atlanta.
Wednesday night in Miami the two teams met for the final time this season. This time it was Atlanta's turn to play shorthanded, with center Al Horford out for the season and guard Joe Johnson missing his sixth game of the last seven to rest his sore knee. With Atlanta missing two All-Stars and the Heat sporting a 16-2 home record, it figured that Miami would dominate. Instead the two teams put together another thriller, with the Heat finally coming out on top, 89-86.
In the first quarter it seemed like it would be no contest. The Heat built a nine-point lead and seemed as if they were going to run away with the game. But Atlanta managed to slow down the Miami fast break to get the game played at a more comfortable pace and took a two point lead into the locker room at halftime.
It was a game of runs. In the second half, the Hawks ran off ten straight to turn a tie game into a double-digit lead. Moments later with the lead still at ten, the Heat went on a 13-0 run to regain the lead by three. Early in the fourth quarter, the Heat went on another run, this one of seven straight to build the lead up to six. Atlanta immediately ran off nine in a row to retake a three-point lead with less than four minutes left. But Miami had one last run in them, and it proved conclusive.
Chris Bosh struggled most of the game for the Heat, missing 11 of his first 12 shots. But to his credit, he made two huge buckets in the decisive run. Overall Miami was led by James, with an impressive 31-point, 11-rebound performance. Wade scored 18, and either scored or assisted on Miami's final ten points. His lob pass to Udonis Haslem with 12 seconds left and Miami clinging to a one point lead was the play of the game. For Atlanta, Josh Smith had 23 points and Jeff Teague scored 16.
The Heat are at their best when they are playing active, aggressive defense. As they were turning a ten point deficit into a three point lead in the third quarter, they smothered each Atlanta possession. In six straight defensive stops, Miami had three steals, one blocked shot, and forced one shot clock violation. During the run, Atlanta only got one shot up to the rim. And importantly for the Heat, when they are generating turnovers like that, they are able to get out and run and take advantage of some of the best transition players in the world.
The win improves Miami's overall record to 30-9, third best in the NBA behind Chicago and Oklahoma City. Atlanta falls to 23-16.