When Joe Johnson joked that Monday night’s 100-92 win over the Heat in Miami marked the “return of the (T-)Mac,” he had no idea how appropriate it was for him to label Tracy McGrady’s big night by bringing up a hit R&B song from the 1990s.
The Hawks are certainly doing their best to wake up the echoes of a superstar whose time had seemingly passed. McGrady certainly did his part against the Heat, coming off the bench with 16 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists and playing huge minutes down the stretch against a division rival that began the night with an unblemished record.
“He’s been doing big things for us,” Johnson said of McGrady, who is clearly a step slow compared to his former, All-Star self but still a threat, as he showed by scoring 13 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. “He made some clutch plays out there and did what a veteran like that is supposed to do. He made plays.”
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McGrady, signed to a one-year deal at the veteran’s minimum, hit two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, his second giving the Hawks a 93-84 lead with 2:26 to play.
“This win wasn’t about one player,” McGrady said. “It was about the way we grinded as a team. We just dug in and tried to match them blow for blow. All I did was my part. … I’m a competitor. Especially competing against the best, LeBron and D-Wade. I’m always up for the challenge. Those guys, they bring the best out of you.”
Apparently, McGrady does the same.
“He played exceptionally well,” James said of McGrady. “When you’re born a scorer, you’re always a scorer. No matter what may happen to athleticism or anything like that, he’s a natural born scorer and we saw that tonight.”
Al Horford added 16 points for the Hawks (4-1), who opened the final period with a 15-3 run to take control.
Now they get to try and do this all over again Tuesday night in Chicago.
“That’s the schedule,” Johnson said. “We knew it before we left home. And we’re cool with it.”
Hawks coach Larry Drew doesn’t spend a lot of time hollering or doing the sideline dance during games that so many of his colleagues are famous for. Whatever Drew lacks in sizzle he more than makes up for with daring. Few coaches are as quick to make radical adjustments.
With the Heat vibing early against the Hawks Monday night, Drew scrapped his regular, man-to-man defense for a zone that completely changed the dynamics of this game.
The Hawks’ slow start was replaced by steady ratcheting up of the energy and intensity, and once they snatched control of the game the Heat simply could not snatch it back.
“Nobody in the league comes into the arena better prepared than us,” Josh Smith said. “We’re always ready to go when we show up, and we usually have a couple of different plans to work with.”
The slow and deliberate pace of the game wouldn’t normally be the recipe for the Hawks to be successful. But against the Heat and their stable of athletes, they had to weigh their options and choose an appropriate alternative to their normal plan.
That meant slowing the game down and trying to exploit whatever deficiencies they could find in the Heat’s makeup.
“We must have done something right,” Johnson said. “We made them work for everything they got, and in the end, it wasn’t enough for them.”
QUOTE TO NOTE
“We got off to a little bit of a slow start. Early in the game, we were just too soft. We were just allowing them to just drive the ball to the basket, not contesting shots. Then I called a timeout and let the guys know.” — Hawks coach Larry Drew.