ATLANTA — A series of blowouts is now about survival. The Atlanta Hawks hope they have enough players left to finish off Miami. The Heat is counting on Dwyane Wade to save the season, despite a bump on his head and a balky back.
The Hawks kept up the theme of this matchup between division rivals—no game has been close—but there were several subplots after a night of hard fouls and staredowns left the Heat feeling as though Atlanta rubbed it in a little too much in a 106-91 victory Wednesday.
Joe Johnson scored 25 points in his first big game of the series, which the Hawks now lead 3-2, and Flip Murray added 23 from a bench that has taken on an increasingly important role. They already were without one injured starter (Marvin Williams) and lost another when Al Horford hobbled off the court with a sprained right ankle.
“It’s not a good sign,” said Zaza Pachulia, one of Atlanta’s top backups. “In the playoffs, you need everybody. But what can you do? Whoever we have, they really have to step up.”
Wade scored 29 points but didn’t get going until the game had been decided. The NBA’s leading scorer already was bothered by back spasms, and he was feeling even worse after colliding with Josh Smith late in the first quarter and banging the back of his head on the court.
But he’s eager for another shot at the Hawks after Smith tried a between-the-legs windmill dunk late in the game with Atlanta up 20. Not only did he fail to pull it off—the ball bounced high off the rim—he fired up the Heat with his unnecessary showmanship.
“We were very insulted by it,” Wade said.
So was rookie coach Erik Spoelstra, who figures to show the play over and over heading into Game 6, which is Friday night in Miami. The Heat must win to force Game 7 in Atlanta on Sunday.
“There at the end it turned into a highlight show. A pickup game highlight reel, really trying to embarrass us,” Spoelstra said. “Now we’ve played five games against each other. I don’t think anybody on either side likes each other anymore.”
While the outcome was never really in question, there was plenty of extracurricular activity to spice up the fifth straight game decided by at least 10 points.
Early on, Wade was sprawled out on the court for several minutes after injuring his head injury. He finally staggered to the locker room for treatment, holding a towel to his head. Not long after Wade returned, Horford was fouled hard by James Jones and fell into Wade on the way down, landing awkwardly on his right foot.
Horford managed to shoot two free throws, but it quickly became apparent he couldn’t go on. He was helped to the locker room, his arms draped around two trainers, and didn’t return.
“I’m a little sore, but we did a lot of treatment in the second half,” Horford said. “That’s what the playoffs are all about. We’re playing hard out there.”
Williams sat out his third straight game with a sprained right wrist. When Mike Bibby picked up his fourth foul, Atlanta played much of the third quarter with only two regular starters on the court. Solomon Jones and Mario West got extensive minutes after playing sparingly during the regular season.
Despite the lack of healthy bodies, the Hawks pulled away in the first half with Wade—still groggy from his head blow—making only 1-of-6 shots.
The Hawks made 13-of-16 from the field in the second quarter, including their last 12 attempts, to push a 24-20 lead to a commanding 63-40 lead by halftime.
With NBA commissioner David Stern looking on, both teams turned up the intensity level—and things nearly got out of hand early.
When Solomon Jones doled out a hard foul on a driving Wade, the two players tumbled into the basket support and stared each other down. Jamaal Magloire jumped in and shoved Jones. Smith took offense and shoved Magloire. The referees stepped in before any blows were thrown, though all four players were given technicals.
Then, with Maurice Evans going in for a layup, Wade slammed into the Atlanta player from behind and sent him tumbling to the court. Again, the teams bowed up, but Evans merely flashed a disgusted stare at Wade—who was called for a flagrant foul—before getting up to shoot his free throws.
Pachulia caught Jermaine O’Neal in the face with an elbow while driving to the hoop. O’Neal crumbled to the court, then got up to deliver a shot across Pachulia’s head the next time the Hawks’ reserve ventured into the lane.
Pachulia was already sporting a black eye from a shot he took in an earlier game.
That was certainly fitting for this one.