Commentary

These Hawks not looking ready to fly

Miami dominated Atlanta in Game 3, raising larger questions about the Hawks

Originally Published: April 25, 2009
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPN.com

Atlanta HawksAP Photo/Wilfredo LeeMike Bibby, Joe Johnson and Maurice Evans did not relish the final moments of Game 3.

MIAMI -- Superstars can win a playoff series practically all by themselves. We're learning that yet again.

Dwyane Wade taught us as much back in 2006, when he carried a relatively inferior Miami Heat team to an NBA championship almost single-handedly. And by the looks of things, he's about to do it again.

At least through the first round.

Courtesy of a 16-2 explosion to end the first half, a 23-7 run in a seven-minute fourth-quarter spurt, a mind-numbingly pathetic display of offensive production by Atlanta and the latest in a laundry list of surreal performances from Wade, the Heat steamrolled to a 107-78 rout of the Hawks at American Airlines Arena on Saturday night.

One can easily engage in the gratuitous explanation of why this series is not over, lamenting the absence of Hawks forward Marvin Williams (wrist injury), the quality of Wade's supporting cast and the reality that the Heat are still just one loss away from giving home-court advantage right back to the Hawks. But from the looks of things, we know better. Don't we?

"Nah, not yet," said Wade, who dropped 29 points on 10-of-21 shooting, doing whatever he wanted all night long. "We started this series focused on a one-game-at-a-time approach, and that's what we'll continue to do."

Why not, when it works so well?

It's bad enough Wade scored when he wanted, assisted when he needed and demoralized the Hawks whenever they hinted at a comeback, but he made sure he had help.

Heat center Jermaine O'Neal showed up and registered 22 points and 10 rebounds. Udonis Haslem recorded 12 points and 13 rebounds. The Heat outrebounded the Hawks 48-35. They hit all 19 of their free throws, and connected on 52 percent (12-of-23) of their shots from beyond the arc.

"We held serve," Wade said.

"They came out and jumped on us," Hawks assistant coach Larry Drew explained after the game. "They attacked and we didn't respond. I guess the tapes will show us, but I really don't have an explanation for it right now. D-Wade is good enough to beat double-teams, but I'm surprised we haven't been able to contain a few others, specifically O'Neal. I thought we'd do better. We need to do better if we're going to reclaim home-court advantage in this series. We definitely need to have a better first half."

Ya think!

The first 24 minutes crystallized everything that's been wrong with Atlanta over the past two seasons:

The Hawks are nothing away from Philips Arena. Or pretty close to it.

As anemic as their half-court offense is, that adrenaline rush they get from their home crowd seems to freshen their legs, keep them focused and make it seem like there's some fluidity to their game. Essentially, everything contrary to what we've seen whenever they're away from Atlanta.

Suddenly, we discover Josh Smith's (4-of-14 shooting, 13 points) athleticism will only get him but so far away from the A.T.L. That Al Horford (13 points) is devoid of a post-up game. That Mike Bibby (three assists) doesn't hit all those contested jumpers like he used to from his heyday in Sacramento. That some guy named Zaza makes you think of a Gabor (Zsa Zsa, sister of Eva, the former "Green Acres" star) due to name recognition instead of a guy named Pachulia playing center.

We suddenly learn the difference between a superstar in Wade and a star-caliber talent like Joe Johnson (10 points on 5-of-17 shooting), still miles away from equaling Wade's status.

If one of Wade's two treys near the end of the half didn't whet everyone's appetite, then 12-straight Miami points in the midst of a 16-2 run to end the half certainly did the trick.

By the time the halftime buzzer sounded, Miami was up 50-29. The Hawks were scratching their heads, just like they did during last year's first-round match when they resembled an AAU squad whenever they were forced to play away from home.

"Basically, we were done," Bibby explained after the game. "We never led. We dug ourselves a hole. They hit us first and hit us hard. We couldn't recover and it spiraled over into the second half. We can't let that happen to us again. If we do ... "

The Hawks' season is over! Period.

Bibby didn't finish his thought because he didn't need to.

History validates such pessimism. The Hawks are not comfortable in hostile confines. Their half-court offense, at times, looks atrocious. Considering that Bibby and Johnson, their starting backcourt, combined for just two assists in a dreadful first half (and a total of six for the game), consider yourself lucky if you missed the second half of this contest.

"It was bad," Josh Smith opined. "We can't let this happen again."

Give Smith this much: He actually sounds like he thinks he has a choice.

With Wade, the Heat are capable of exploding at any moment, particularly when missed jumpers ricochet out for long rebounds leading to fast breaks. The Hawks would've helped themselves better if they had any type of post game, but they don't. Plus, their half-court offense displays very little ball movement and too much one-on-one dribbling.

"We expect them to do much better next time around," Heat forward Michael Beasley deadpanned. "We're definitely surprised the game happened the way it did, so we'll need to be ready for Game 4."

Whether Beasley (1-for-9, four points in 19 minutes) will be or not remains to be seen. It also may be irrelevant if Wade continues to shine.

"He's the man," said Drew, shaking his head with amazement. "We've got to figure out something."

Especially with the Hawks being possibly two games away from hearing "Good night! See ya next season."

Stephen A. Smith is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."