Bench-pressed: Short-handed Hawks Can’t Handle the Heat

Fresh off punching their ticket to the playoffs in Miami with a Tuesday night win over the Atlanta Hawks, the Miami Heat breezed to another 115-86 victory on Wednesday night in Atlanta, improving their record to 43-36, while the Hawks fell to 22-57.

The game was a test of depth, as key players from both teams were out with injuries. The Hawks played without their regular starters — point guard Dennis Schroder and shooting guard Kent Bazemore — while the Heat were down point guard Goran Dragic, forward James Johnson and shooting guard Dwyane Wade.

“We think it’s smart [for these guys] just to take a day, get treatment and re-evaluate,” Miami Head Coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game.

The entire Heat bench, led by center Kelly Olynyk (19 points, eight rebounds and five assists) and forward Justise Winslow (18 points and five assists), stepped up to power the Heat to victory. The role players outscored the Hawks bench 69-34.

Olynyk sparked the first-half, game-changing run. He scored 12 straight points on four threes, highlighted by rookie power forward Bam Adebayo’s emphatic block (0:34) which led to a fast break pull-up three for Olynyk. Olynyk’s production transformed a 36-28 Hawks lead into a 48-40 Heat advantage.

In the second half, Winslow carried the team. His nine points and three assists in the second half of the third quarter allowed for a Heat explosion from a precarious 64-60 advantage to an 84-68 lead to end the third quarter.  

Because they were playing their second game in as many nights, the Hawks’ energy began to wane midway through the third quarter.  

“The dam broke,”Atlanta Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said. “The gas tank hit empty.”

The team played hard and kept the game competitive for the first half, but their shots just wouldn’t fall in the second half.

But the night wasn’t all bad for Hawks fans. While one fan won a Kia during halftime, Hawks small forward Taurean Prince had an efficient 20 points on 8-14 shooting. In addition, Hawks rookie shooting guard Damion Lee, making only ninth start of the season in his 12th game with the team after coming up from the G League, scored nine of the team’s first 13 points, racking up 15 total.

Lee’s fast start clearly indicates he isn’t afraid of the NBA competition.

“I just come out here and play with confidence,” Lee said. “Everyone that’s on the team has told me [to] do what got you here. Go out there and just hoop.”

Unfortunately, when Prince’s and Lee’s shots went cold in the third quarter, the Hawks couldn’t stay in the game. The Heat tore a 45-14 run to ensure the blowout.

Nevertheless, the fact that Prince and Lee, who have only been in the NBA for a combined three seasons, are already making important contributions against a quality opponent like the Heat is a great sign for the team, even if their efforts don’t translate to wins. But the Hawks still need to find a franchise player in the upcoming NBA draft. The worse their record, the more likely the team will end up with a high draft spot to select a franchise player that will help bring the Hawks back to the playoffs.

The Hawks will play the Washington Wizards in Washington, D.C., on April 6 at 7 p.m.

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