At the end of Saturday night the Hawks had beaten the Heat 98-85 and had locked up the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth but the way in which they did it was just as significant. The Miami Heat were well beaten by a team that played with passion and intensity which surprised the sellout Philips Arena crowd who came to see the Heat’s stars but who left impressed by a great Hawks team performance.
Whenever the Miami Heat come to town there will always be a big crowd as people want to see biggest stars play and Miami has three on their roster. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are the big name draws and the Atlanta fans were given an unexpected surprise when Dwyane Wade was announced as part of the starting Miami line-up after being absent for nine games.
To announce his return, Dwayne Wade took the ball from the opening tipoff and jammed the ball for the first two of his 24 points of the evening. Despite his emphatic opening statement and the rest of his evening's play which, along with LeBron James' 27 points led the Heat, he was unable to make up for a greater performance from the Hawks.
With five players in double figures including Lou Williams and Mike Scott off the bench with 23 and 12 respectively the Hawks put in a supreme effort. Jeff Teague led the way with 25 points and he was supported by DeMarre Carroll with 17 and Paul Millsap with 11.
Where the Hawks made it really count was in their hustling, bustling defense that kept Miami off-balance and led to 20 Heat turnovers that resulted in 29 points, a season-high for the team. The Hawks were relentless and their speed off the Heat turnovers was critical for their success.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra noted the turnovers came from “…a lack of preparation, a lack of fundamentals…We need to save possessions. They are a quick team. Teague pushes it with an incredible motor.”
Spoelstra was encouraged by Wade’s performance in his return, “I was only planning on playing him twenty minutes or so.” In Wade’s 23 minutes he shot 10 of 14 from the field to regain game fitness in time for the playoffs.
For the Atlanta Hawks, the win brought them the NBA playoffs for the seventh straight season. Coach Budenholzer sees this year as a building block for the team’s development as a whole, “"I'm happy that we get to play more games and I get to talk more about improving and getting better each practice," adding "We want to build something here. Miami has been in the Finals for three years in a row. There are a lot of teams that have had a lot of success. It takes time to build your habits."
The Hawks will use their last two regular reason games, home to Charlotte on Monday and away to Milwaukee on Wednesday to prepare for the playoffs with a five game against either the Heat or the Pacers.