The midway point of the Heat’s season is here, and if one trend has emerged in recent games, it’s that the defending back-to-back champions aren’t interested in playing defense in the first halves of games.
Opponents are averaging 64.5 points in the first halves of the past four games against the Heat and, in Monday’s 121-114 loss to the Hawks, the Heat allowed a whopping 71 points before the break. The Hawks hadn’t beaten the Heat since Jan 2, 2012, a streak of nine games.
The runaway scoring led to some statistical oddities. For example, the Heat made 15 three-pointers and shot 45 percent from beyond the arc and somehow managed to lose to a team that is now just two games above .500.
“All across the board, ‘A’ through ‘Z’, there just was not a lot of pride [on defense],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We tried to win on a shootout and then when our offense came up dry on the road toward the end we weren’t able to secure a win.”
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The Heat (29-12) now returns to Miami for a game against Boston on Tuesday. It’s a difficult back-to-back, especially considering the Heat just finished a long and meandering six-game road trip. It started in New York with a loss to the troubled Knicks and Nets. From there, the Heat fell to the Wizards, another team with a losing record.
LeBron James had a game-high 30 points, going 11 of 21 from the field, 3 of 7 from three-point range and 5 of 8 from the free-throw line. He also had six assists and four rebounds.
“We scored enough points to win, so obviously it was defense,” James said. “It was there for the most part, especially in the first half I can’t pinpoint what it is. It’s a little bit of everything and at some point we’ve got to figure it out.”
Dwyane Wade missed his second straight game due to knee soreness. He was a late scratch and will be a game-time decision against the Celtics.
The lone bright spot for the Heat on Sunday in Atlanta was the reemergence of Ray Allen. Starting in place of Wade, Allen had a perfect night shooting. He was 5 of 5 from the field, including 4 of 4 from three-point range.
The Heat is now 2-1 against the Hawks (21-19) on the season and 9-2 against teams in the Southeast Division.
Seven players scored in double figures for the Hawks, including three reserves. Paul Millsap and Pero Antic, the Hawks rugged Montenegrin, abused the Heat inside in the first half. Millsap finished with a team-high 26 points, going 8 of 13 from the field and 10 of 11 from the free-throw line. Antic had 17 points, a career high, and was 7 of 10 from the field.
It was the Heat’s first game against a team with a winning record since Jan. 2, when the Heat lost to the Golden State Warriors 123-114.
James stroked a three-pointer with 7:05 left to tie the score and his three-pointer on the Heat’s next possession put the Heat ahead for the first time since the first quarter, but James turnover with 46 seconds left after a timeout was too much to overcome.
A three-pointer by Kyle Korver gave the Hawks a 119-114 lead with 55.1 seconds left. After a missed three-pointer by Hawks defensive specialist DeMarre Carroll, James missed a desperation three-pointer with 17.9 seconds left. Korver grabbed the rebound and made a pair of free throws to ice the game.
The first half was an affront to the defensive commitment espoused by Spoelstra ad nauseam throughout the season. The Hawks led 71-70 at the break, marking just the second time in Heat franchise history that it has played in a game when both teams scored over 70 points in the same half.
The only other time it happened in the 26-year history of the team was on April 12, 1990 in the second half against Boston. In that game, the Celtics outscored the Heat 78-71 in the second half.
After falling behind 34-31 in the first quarter, the Heat outscored the Hawks 39-37 in the second quarter. Atlanta shot 58.1 percent in the first half while the Heat shot 53.2 percent.
“It’s a four-quarter game, and we’ve got to get into the habit of competing and playing hard for four quarters,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who had six points and four rebounds in 11 minutes. “Seventy-one points in the first half is unacceptable. You can’t continue to come out in the second half and turn it on and think we’re going to win games.”
The teams mirrored each other offensively in the first quarter. Both the Heat and Hawks were 12 of 22 from the field and 5 of 9 from three-point range. In a positive sign for the Heat’s stability moving into the second half of the season, Shane Battier began the game 3 of 3 from three-point range. His high for a game this season is four in the season opener against the Bulls.
Battier missed five games with a strained leg muscle from Jan. 4-10 and didn’t attempt a shot in the Heat’s game against the Bobcats on Friday.
Also improving from the outside after recent struggles, Allen started the game hitting all four three-pointers. It was his first game with more than one three-pointer since Jan.7.
Mario Chalmers finished with 17 points, going 6 of 12 from the field. He had 14 points in the first half, including nine points on 4 of 5 shooting in the second quarter. Chalmers’ season high for points in half before Sunday was 13 points against the Bucks on Nov. 12. Chalmers rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter and his playing status likely will be a game-time decision Monday.