Court Vision: Hawks lean on defense early, late to dump Heat

ATLANTA — Going inside the Hawks’ 114-103 win over the Heat on Friday night at Philips Arena. It was their third straight in the series.

LeBron James is long gone and on this night, so was Dwyane Wade, who sat with a sore hamstring. This isn’t close to the same Heat team that made it to three consecutive Finals — and the Hawks defense made that evident.

Miami went the first 3:30 without a field goal, missing its first three shots and committing two turnovers in that span as the Hawks raced out to a 12-1 lead.

The Heat made a run to make it 35-23 at the end of the first quarter, but could get no closer than four as an offense that came in fourth in the league with a 47.4 shooting percentage, managed 46.5, including 33.3 percent (6 for 18) in the final 12 minutes.

"The fourth quarter, the first six to nine minutes we did what we needed to do to find a way to get some stops and get a win and get a little separation," said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. "That’s what we keep talking about in the locker room is improving defensively and getting better defensively and that can feed our offense."

It was a continuation of the Atlanta’s strong play Wednesday — as it allowed just nine points in the final quarter of Wednesday’s win over the Jazz — and provided another reminder of the improvement the Hawks have shown defensively.

They came in 11th in blocks at 4.9, a 0.9 improvement from 2013-14 when they were 25th, and had five against Miami.

Those blocks have no doubt been helped by the return of center Al Horford (1.4 per, including one Friday), but the thing coach Mike Budenhozler points to is the amount he’s getting away from his frontcourt.

Next Up: Hawks at Cavaliers

Offseason addition Thabo Sefolosha had a season-high three blocks against the Heat, while fellow shooting guard Kyle Kover is averaging one a game and Jeff Teague is at 0.57.

"Hopefully it’s not an outlier and something we can maintain for the year is the activity of our smalls," Budenholzer said. "I think they’re chipping in in our blocked-shot total and our field-goal percentage defense. I think that activity is going to pay off for us if we can maintain it."

Chris Bosh may be the best individual player in the division now that LeBron is back in Cleveland.

Asked to take on a bigger offensive role, he’s eighth in the league in PERA (24.5) and is averaging over 20 points for the first time his last season with the Raptors in 2009-10. That puts him only behind the Charlotte’s Al Jefferson among Southeast players at 21.8 per.

But in a matchup with Bosh, Horford showed he deserves to be in any conversation about the division’s elite.

He scored the game’s first seven points, helping the Hawks to 35 in the first quarter (the most Miami has allowed this year) and 62 by halftime (also a season-high by the Heat).

Horford finished with 19 points and six rebounds, hitting eight of his 10 field goals, including his first three-pointer of the season.

Bosh still outscored Horford by one and had two more rebounds, but Horford had a plus/minus of plus-14 ,while Bosh was at minus-22 and set the tone for the Atlanta’s romp with that early outburst.

Bosh has long got the best of their matchups, outscoring Horford 19.3-14.3 in 20 all-time meetings, and the Hawk last had more points in one of their clashes on Dec. 2, 2009, a game in which Bosh played just 15:49. You have to go all the way back to March 17, 2010 to find the last time both played a full game and Horford outscored him.

Korver already owns the NBA single-season record for best three-point percentage, shooting at an obscene 53.6 clip in 2009-10 when he was with the Jazz.

He also holds the 27th-best rate on that clip at 47.1 last season, and it’s looking as if he may be working on another spot on that list this season.

Korver went 4 of 5 from beyond the arc in scoring 12 points against the Heat and has made at least three in six of the Hawks’ eight games.

"I don’t want to read too much into percentages, but I think I’ve gotten good looks and my body feels real healthy, as healthy as it’s been in a lot of years and that helps too," Korver said.

He now leads the league with 30 treys made this season, and while it’s still painstakingly early, he’s working on another record with at 57.6 shooting. (30 of 52)

By comparison, when Korver last set that mark, he shot 50 percent through nine games, hitting just four treys in that span.

8 — Number of players in double figures for the Hawks as Paul Millsap and Horford both had 19, Jeff Teague supplied 16, Korver, Sefolosha and Shelvin Mack had 12, Mike Scott added 11 and Dennis Schroder had 10. This was the first time they had that many players score at least 10 points since Nov. 16, 2013 against the Knicks.

33 — Atlanta’s combined assists, which tied the Heat and Mavericks (both of whom did it against the Sixers) for the most of any team this season.