Scouting update: Heat-Hawks, Game 7
Miami fought off elimination in Game 6 with an inspired offensive effort by Dwyane Wade and the Heat's best defensive performance of the series. Both teams were missing their starting centers, and the status of Jermaine O'Neal and Al Horford could be a determining factor as the series moves back to Atlanta for Game 7.
• The Hawks started Game 6 poorly, with Joe Johnson picking up two fouls in the first two minutes, and this set the tone for a quick downhill slide. Johnson picked up his second foul on a charge in the lane, a play he just can't make in Game 7. That kind of decision-making was par for the course for the Hawks in Game 6.
• Mike Bibby had three bad turnovers in the first quarter -- he fired a pass out of bounds, tried to split a trap and tossed a ridiculous alley-oop attempt to Josh Smith on the break -- plays not indicative of a veteran NBA point guard.
• Smith was no better, as he drove weakly to the basket, settled for contested jump shots, traveled in the post and exhibited a less-than-positive demeanor that coach Mike Woodson must be concerned about in the pressure of a Game 7.
• Once they got behind, the Hawks went back to standing around on offense, not moving the ball and becoming stagnant and perimeter-oriented, just as they had in their previous losses.
• In Game 7, Joe Johnson must be more of the facilitator that he was in the Hawks' wins in Games 4 and 5. In those wins, Johnson didn't force plays, moved the ball quickly when he was double-teamed and was able to attack on ball reversal as Miami defenders were in motion. The tone he sets for his team will be critical in Game 7.
• Atlanta must get back to a quicker, more attacking pace in Game 7. This keeps everyone involved, makes the defense move and seems to encourage a greater attacking mentality from Smith.
• With Johnson on the bench, Flip Murray became less effective, as Dwyane Wade was able to guard him and prevent the post-ups and scores off drives. With Johnson in the game with Murray, Wade must choose which one to guard, providing a favorable matchup for the other.
• Defensively, Atlanta let Wade go wherever he wanted. He dribbled through Hawks defenders on his way to 41 points and 17 free throw attempts. There can be nothing close to those numbers in Game 7 if the Hawks want to win. Expect the help to be better, and the fouls to be much harder.
• Atlanta did an extremely poor job of defending the ball screen on the wing in Game 6, allowing Miami ball handlers to get easy, uncontested jump shots from the elbow. In Game 7, the Hawks must get a harder hedge or switch from the screener's defender.
• Their effort continued to be poor on the high ball screen, and at times they contested shots with a token effort. In Game 7, the Hawks need more overall intensity on every defensive possession; the sense of urgency cannot be greater.
• With Horford on the bench in Game 6, Wade went back to his rim-attacking style, which got him to the foul line on nearly every drive. Expect Horford to play in Game 7, and even with a sore ankle and limited mobility, he will provide a more formidable defense at the basket.
• Woodson's biggest concern may be his team's lack of composure when things got messy in Miami. Sour facial expressions, bad body language and emotional outbursts were on full display, and Woodson must hope that the home environment will cure those ills.
• Wade was the offensive aggressor right from the start of Game 6, knowing that the path to the basket would be less impeded with Horford out of the lineup. Wade drove hard and forced the Hawks to foul, and this got into Atlanta's collective head, with many of the Hawks clearly upset with the multiple calls Wade was getting.
• In Game 6, there was none of the hard fouls or physical confrontations that were present in the previous game. In Game 7, expect more aggressive drives from Wade in an effort to get to the foul line and get Atlanta's front line in foul trouble. He should expect to get hit hard.
• The Heat did a much better job of running their sets in Game 6, executing their wing ball-screen action and pinch-post series for open jump shots and drives. In Game 7, look for the screeners to slip screens and cutters to go backdoor with Atlanta's expected increase of defensive intensity.
• Michael Beasley became an offensive force in Game 6, getting drives and short jump shots in isolations in the post extended. Beasley is unafraid to take the ball right at Josh Smith, and Beasley's points will be needed in Game 7, especially if O'Neal is unavailable.
• Miami also ran excellent screening action for Daequan Cook in Game 6, getting him untracked for a few early jump shots. In Game 7, look for more screens for Cook to give him multiple catch-and-shoot opportunities. With all of the defensive attention on Wade, Cook and James Jones will have to be prepared to knock down 3s when the help defenders swarm to Wade.
• Defensively, Wade also led the way with tough on-ball defense on Johnson and Flip Murray. Miami's ball pressure and help rotations kept the Hawks out on the perimeter, limiting them to contested jump shots. In Game 7, look for Wade to start off on Johnson, and guard Murray when Johnson goes to the bench.
• Playing without the shot-blocking of Jermaine O'Neal, the Heat got inspired play from Joel Anthony, who started nearly half the Heat's games at center this season before O'Neal was acquired. Anthony provided defense, rebounding and more of the dirty work needed in Game 6. Look for an increased role for him in Game 7, especially if Horford is hobbled.
• The severity of Horford's injury will be a key. He is the rock of Atlanta's interior defense and a tough customer around the basket on both ends.
• Many of the Hawks lost their composure in the blowout loss in Miami. If the Atlanta gets behind early, Bibby and Johnson must keep the young players from self-destructing.
• If O'Neal can't go, Anthony and Jamaal Magloire will have to hold down the post for the Heat. Both are much better defenders than they are offensive players.
• Beasley and Cook must provide scoring off the bench, especially when Wade takes a breather.
In a series that goes the full seven games, we would expect dramatic finishes and clutch plays that lead up to the final game. So far in this series, that has not been the case. There have been no good games in this series: The team that got ahead in the first quarter stayed ahead, and the losing team in each game has looked dreadful and incapable of winning another game.
The Hawks know what it's like to play on the road in a Game 7, and they hope their crowd can give them the boost they need to advance. Expect much better play from both teams on both ends and a much closer game. If Horford is close to 100 percent, Atlanta should win. If not, then look for Dwyane Wade to decide the outcome in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Hawks win Game 7
Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves as an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.
MORE NBA HEADLINES
- Sources: Phil's Knicks deal to be done Friday
- Thunder fire back to rout Lakers in rematch
- Dunleavy, Noah carry Bulls past Rockets
- McHale: Noah is Defensive Player of Year