Atlien Letdown

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The most difficult aspect of success lies in the attempts to replicate it. Once I’ve succeeded, I have to do it again. The mental toughness needed to beat a team twice in 4 days is not innate. It is learned. It is developed. The young Atlanta Hawks stubbed their collective toe on this night and there is a great lesson to be learned from it.

The atmosphere at Phillips Arena was more jubilant than that of the first game. Casual fans shed their “fashionably late” routines and filled their seats in anticipation of another Hawks victory. Every early basket elicited roars and every early Heat possession the requisite boos. That friskiness soon turned to concern as the Hawks fell behind by as much as 18 points. The team that dominated on Sunday did not take the court and neither did the team that they so completely manhandled. This would turn out to be a whole different ball game.

The types of things that Atlanta thrives on: energy from the home crowd, emotional highs from alley oop dunks or power slams, backbreaking three point bombs, were far too few on this night. The visitors from Miami were able to take the air out of the ball, dictate a slower, more methodical tempo and thus stymie the high flying offense of Joe Johnson (16 points on 5-13 shooting with 4 turnovers), Mike Bibby (18 points and 4 assists) and Josh Smith (17 points and 10 rebounds).

I asked Miami Heat Head Coach Eric Spoelstra to comment on the differences in approach from Game 1 to Game 2.

Jerold Wells Jr., TSF: “The turnaround from Game 1 was immediate. How did you slow the Hawks down?”

Coach Spoelstra: “Our spacing, execution, and shooting all improved this game. Jermaine O’Neal also played a big part in what we did tonight as well. He was patient, made good decisions with the ball and trusted his teammates. We were able to control tempo and pace by playing through him and making some shots.” “We played our normal pace. I think in Game 1 we may have been too juiced and got out rhythm, even on defense. And, again, we made shots tonight and that helps our fast break defense.”

I also asked Coach Spoelstra about the job his defense did against Joe Johnson and Josh Smith.

JW: “The defense on Joe and Josh was much better. How did you approach them differently?”

ES: “We have a guy on our roster (Dwyane Wade) that was 3rd in the DPOY voting. I think he’s a good choice to guard any perimeter player in this league. We made a decision to spend the majority of the minutes with our best player on their best player and I think he rose to the challenge. Some late foul trouble interrupted that but Jamario (Moon) filled in very nicely after that.”

The referees (Dan Crawford, Jason Phillips and Ken Mauer) were very much involved in the game, blowing their whistles early and often. As a result both Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade found themselves in foul trouble but only the Hawks would feel the bite of playing without their best player. Wade would score enough points while he was one the floor to offset any potential Hawks advantage while he sat. The foul situation also helped keep the game at what seemed to be a snail’s pace. Whenever Atlanta did find a spark, Miami would answer right back; more times than not those sparks were doused by Dwyane Wade.

I also asked Dwyane to talk about the turnaround from Game 1 to Game 2.

DW: “We got into the fight early. We were physical. Udonis and Jermaine did a good job getting rebounds and playing tough. At one point I think someone even dove on the floor.” “Also, our offense helped our defense. We limited turnovers and made some shots tonight. I personnally focused on making the shots that they gave me in the first game.”

The Miami Heat took a step in the right direction. Falling is nothing. Getting back up is difficult. Game 2 presented an opportunity for the Heat to correct wrongs, start new, and revisit the strengths that carried them to the postseason. They met that challenge and passed with flying colors.

Coach Eric Spoelstra spoke a great deal after Game One about the ways his team needed to improve before the nest contest. He talked about patient offense, more support from shooters and posts, and better team defense. After Game 2 those words seemed almost prophetic.

It also helps when you have a player capable of raising his game and leading his teammates. Dwyane Wade’s supreme confidence and permeates this entire team. Jermaine O’Neal played well, Deaquan Cook made six three pointers, and Udonis Haslem made his presence felt in this contest. Coach Spoelstra gives instruction, Wade translates, and this team follows. As he goes, they go.

If this contest shows anything it shows us that nothing is guaranteed. Each game of this series is going to be a battle of wills. Both teams have players capable of erupting for large scoring, rebounding or assist totals. Both teams have the ability to lock in defensively and completely befuddle the other. Entertainment is certain for the duration of the series. I asked Wade to give me one thing that they would take home to build off of after this win.

JW: “Give me one thing you would like to carry over into the next two games in Miami.”

DW: “Our start. We do well as a team when we start well, play smart and play with energy. We have to have passion and fight also. There are no guarantees (because of home court). We have to play hard and earn those wins.”

8 Responses to “Atlien Letdown”

  1. Temple3 says:

    Wade ripped it. You know I picked Atlanta in 5 – but that was contingent on Jermaine O’Neal. You know I don’t really like this ATL team. I think they’re fun to watch, but built to lose. With O’Neal playing like that, ATL is in for a rough ride. I don’t believe you saw the game, but TNT did a sideline interview with Alonzo Mourning last night. Zo stepped up and talked to Wade about what he needed to do to have more success against ATL.

    The Hawks can win in Miami, but the Heat will not be intimidated by them again. The first game jitters for Chalmers, Beasley and Cooke are gone forever. The window for winning a quick series and having some time to prepare for that next series has closed. The good news for Atlanta is that Miami cannot be expected to sink 15 three-pointers again in this series. The bad news is that the game wasn’t close and that many of those shots were uncontested. The other bad news is that Beasley and Chalmers can play MUCH better than they have. They will.

    ATL has to get a clue.

    Spoelstra did what Woodson should have done. ATL actually allowed Miami to use Wade to set the defensive tempo for the game. That should never happen. Joe Johnson and Mike Wood have to respond if ATL is going to advance.

  2. GrandNubian says:

    I think the Hawks were overconfident coming in and took the Heat too lightly. I initially said that the Hawks would take this one in 6 games but it all depended on whether or not Josh Smith played within Mike Woodson’s system. In other words, if he let the game come to him. After how they played last night, this could very well be a 7-game series or the Heat could take it in 6.

    I knew the Hawks were in trouble the minute I saw J-Smoove trying to take the initiative and force offense to go through him. This has been the theme all year for Josh Smith. He has to learn to accept the fact that he is not the number one option and that the offense doesn’t go through him but Joe Johnson. Another theme all season long is that the Hawks shoot too many jumpers and don’t dump the ball in the post enoough to Al Horford. Josh Smith could also stand to develop a low-post game and improve his jump shoot. If he does those things, he would be unstoppable.

    Last night Woody was outcoached by Spoelstra. He didn’t improvise and make adjustments during the game, let alone half-time. The Hawks are probably the most athletic team in the league but the way they play defense sometimes, you wouldn’t know it. Like T3 stated, a lot of those shots were unconstested. You can’t win playing passive in the playoffs.

    If the Hawks are going to win this series, they have to play THEIR game, not Miami’s. The Hawks must put pressure on the ball, cause some turnovers which lead to transition baskets. They also need to involve Al Horford more in the offense. When Horford gets going early, the Hawks are tough to beat. His presence in the paint opens things up on the outside where Flip Murray, Bibby & Marvin Williams can knock down those ‘threes’.

  3. Temple3 says:

    If you went position by position in terms of talent + basketball savvy with ATL Miami, it’s really close.

    Mike Bibby vs. Mario Chalmers: Bibby has the hoop savvy edge, but Chalmers has the athleticism edge.
    Joe Johnson vs. D-Wade: Athleticism is very, very close. Hoop savvy to Wade.
    Jermaine O’Neal vs. Al Horford: Athleticism to Baby Tito, but savvy to Jermaine.
    Josh Smith vs. Adonis Haslem: Athleticism – Slam Dunk to Josh. Savvy to Haslem.
    Marvin Williams vs. J. Jones: Marvin has this one all over. Beasley, though, makes this matchup much tighter.

    The thing about this is — just like GN says — the Hawks are effectively eliminating Horford’s athletic advantage over O’Neal by not getting him the rock. That effectively makes the athleticism matchup 1:2:2 (Miami:Even:Atlanta) instead of 1:1:3. If Beasley continues to improve, this could look like 2:1:2. So, Atlanta is reduced to needing Marvin Williams to score or needing Mike Bibby to play like its 1999. Chalmers’ athleticism puts Bibby in the position of jacking from deep or hitting mid-range J’s off scramble plays. Last night, Mike B took 8 threes. That’s too many.

    GN — I totally agree about Josh and Joe. Nice work.

  4. origin says:

    As far as Miami the reason they won was because Miami didn’t try to run with them. Miami slowed the tempo and didn’t take quick shots. Plus they went into O’neal more letting him set the tone.

    The thing with ATL is that none of the young players like Smith or Hortford have developed since last year. Williams is better at shooting 3s but thats it.

    Smith still has no post game and a streaky jumper.

    So they have the inability to play in the half-court. Not counting that only Bibby and Joe Johnson can pass well. Plus only Joe, Bibby and flip can consistantly hit a shot from the outside.

    Thats why I said Miami in 6 and I still believe it. Also folks forget that O’Neal help to put everyone at their natural position and gave miami a post up game and a shot block. So Hortford will have to play defense. But at the same time ATL players are having their shots contested in the paint because of O’Neal.

    I don’t care what offense woodson puts in. If Williams, Hortford and Smith do not develope more they will never have a decent half court offense.

    Another thing ATL must have the weakest bench I have ever seen for a playoff team.

  5. michelle says:

    O’Neal’s play was a big factor in this victory. If he continues to play this way, Miami has a chance to win the series.

  6. michelle says:

    Nice work Jerold

  7. Patrick says:

    …”I think they’re fun to watch, but built to lose…”

    Temple, I think that statement pretty much sums up the Hawks.

    …”ATL must have the weakest bench I have ever seen for a playoff team….”

    Origin, I believe ‘undeveloped’ may be a more fitting word. Woodson doesn’t believe in his bench.

  8. TC says:

    If JO is showing up – which he seems to be – it makes MIA so much more dangerous. It obviously opens it up for their perimeter shooters and JO, if he can turn back the clock 4 or 5 years (not like he’s that old now), well, seems like ATL are in trouble.