MIAMI (AP) — Atlanta played zone defense. Tracy McGrady found his zone.
And with that, Miami’s unbeaten start came to an end.
Joe Johnson scored 21 points, McGrady hit a pair of big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and the Hawks recovered from early 10-point deficits to beat the Heat 100-92 on Monday night.
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McGrady and Al Horford each scored 16 for the Hawks (4-1), who opened the final period on a 15-3 run to take control. And McGrady made perhaps the two biggest plays of the night in the final minutes, first throwing a lob to Josh Smith for a dunk, then hitting a 3-pointer that gave the Hawks a 93-84 lead with 2:26 left.
“Been a long time since I had that feeling,” McGrady said. “It feels good. It feels right.”
LeBron James scored 28 points, Chris Bosh scored 19 and Dwyane Wade finished with 12 points and 10 assists for Miami (5-1). The Heat were outscored 33-21 in the fourth quarter and struggled against Atlanta’s zone defense, which not only slowed Miami down but disrupted its rhythm for long stretches.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said not only was the zone effective on the court, it got into Miami’s heads as well.
“We need to work through it,” Spoelstra said. “Look, we’re going to see enough of it that we will have our breakthrough. We hope to have it sooner than later. … But you can see, our minds were heavy from that point on and our minds were occupied rather than playing free.”
Jeff Teague finished with 15 points for Atlanta.
McGrady and Jannero Pargo made 3-pointers midway through the fourth, giving Atlanta what was then its biggest lead at 82-74. Miami twice cut the lead to four, the second of those coming when Udonis Haslem made a free throw with 3:24 remaining.
The Heat got no closer. Off a set play called during a time-out, McGrady’s lob to Smith gave Atlanta some breathing room, and then the Florida native connected from beyond the arc on the left wing to essentially seal the win for the Hawks.
McGrady scored 13 in the fourth, his biggest final quarter since November 2008.
“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.”
As has been the case regularly this season, Miami came out flying.
A right-handed dunk from the left-handed Bosh — he went by three Hawks on the play, sprawling to the court on the landing — less than a minute into the contest got the Heat started. Wade threw a long alley-oop pass to James for another slam and a 20-10 lead.
And when the 6-foot-10 Atlanta forward Vladimir Radmanovic tried to dunk on the 6-4 Wade in the second quarter, not only did he get rejected at the rim he got a stare-down as well.
More often than not so far in this young season, once the Heat get the highlight machine going — as they did against Dallas in the season opener and Charlotte on Sunday night — they’ve simply run away from opponents.
Not in this game. Atlanta had plenty of answers.
“The zone changed the rhythm of the game,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said.
Down by 10 midway through the second quarter, Atlanta made a run to turn everything around. A 17-5 run not only erased the deficit, but gave the Hawks their first lead at 44-42 when Horford scored off a lob from Smith.
Miami scored the next eight points, then got unlucky on the final play of the half. Wade swatted a ball away from the baseline, but it sailed directly to a wide-open Johnson, who swished a 3-pointer as the half expired to cut Miami’s edge to 50-47 at the break.
Johnson was 4 for 4 in the second quarter, and the Hawks’ starters shot a combined 11 for 14 in the second 12 minutes.
Neither team led by more than four points in the third, and that was the cushion — 71-67 — that Miami carried into the fourth. Atlanta led by three after another jumper by Johnson with 4:39 left, but the Hawks missed seven of their final eight shots of the quarter, six of those from the perimeter. And when Shane Battier made a 3-pointer, just his third field goal of the season, with 26 seconds left in the period, the Heat were back on top.
Then Atlanta simply took off in the fourth, denying Miami any shot at the first 6-0 start in franchise history. And when McGrady threw that lob to Smith, he pointed to the Hawks’ bench in celebration, sensing the win was coming.
“Great execution,” McGrady said. “That’s what you have to do when you’re playing great teams.”
NOTES: Actor Adrien Brody and rapper Lil Wayne sat next to each other courtside. … The teams play again Thursday in Atlanta, a game that will mark Miami’s fourth in five nights. … Wade had eight assists by halftime, already tying a season high. … Monday’s game marked just the third time McGrady played at Miami since November 2008. … The Heat were without reserve rookie C Mickell Gladness (left foot infection). He is day-to-day. … Hawks vice president Dominique Wilkins said G Kirk Hinrich (shoulder surgery) is still expected to miss another month.