It took more than three quarters, but the red-hot Heat found its way back to dominance Wednesday in its first game since the All-Star break.
The Heat extended its winning streak to eight games with a 103-90 victory over the Hawks at Philips Arena. Miami is now 14-11 on the road as it continues its difficult back-to-back against the Bulls on Thursday.
LeBron James’ streak of seven games with at least 30 points ended but he still led a breathtaking explosion of offense with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Heat led 83-81 before outscoring Atlanta 20-9.
James finished with 24 points, going 8 of 15 from the field. He also had 10 assists, giving him his 23rd double-double of the season.
James had eight assists in less than nine minutes in the final period.
Just as he did in Sunday’s All-Star Game, James took a pass from Dwyane Wade off the backboard in the first half and finished it with a dunk to provide the game’s signature highlight. While the breakaway play was stunning, it didn’t reflect the Heat’s overall energy level to begin the game. Lethargic at times and downright sloppy at others, the Heat toyed with the Hawks until crunch time.
“Defensively we was in tune with everything they was running and we got stops,” James said. “We held them to 17 points in the fourth.”
The Heat scored 40 points in the final quarter and the blowout commenced when Ray Allen and Shane Battier began knocking down shots at will. Allen had 13 points the fourth quarter and Battier was 3 of 4 from three-point range in the period.
“We’ve grown so much,” said Wade, who finished with 20 points and six rebounds. “There are many different ways we can win ball games. In 2010, either we were just getting back into transition or just one-on-one basketball. Now, we get into transition but we also execute in half court.”
For the game, Allen was 6 of 12 for 15 points while Battier, still sizzling after the All-Star break, was 5 of 8 from on threes for 17 points.
“I finally feel normally,” Battier said. “I’ve been battling a [hamstring] and a knee and different injuries for the entire year and it wasn’t until recently that I finally feel good. And when I feel good, feel normal, I just play better.”
The Heat finished strong but before the late-game surge Miami seemed a lot like the team that began the season struggling on the road against inferior competition.
The Hawks’ momentum spiked with a half-court alley-oop from Josh Smith to Al Horford with 7:28 left in the third quarter. The highlight gave Atlanta a 57-51 lead and extended Horford’s perfection from the field. He began the game 9 of 9.
Meanwhile, Chris Bosh was horrific in his first game since the All-Star Game. He began the game 0 of 8
and finished 2 of 10, scoring twice in the Heat’s dominant run to finish the game. His counterpart, Horford, had 27 points and went 12 of 15 from the field.