ATLANTA – There were plenty of signs pointing to a potential letdown for the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Miami Heat in Sunday’s Game 4.
Kyle Lowry was a late scratch because of a left hamstring strain. The Atlanta Hawks’ defensive anchor, Clint Capela, returned from a hyperextended right knee to make his series debut. The State Farm Arena crowd, still hyped from Trae Young’s game-winner on Friday, looked to cap a beautiful spring weekend in The A with a series-tying win for their underdog Hawks, where the home team had won 21 of its last 24 games .
Instead, Miami dominated with its defense in a 110-86 victory in what was its best showing of the postseason so far – all things considered – to build a 3-1 lead on the No. 8-seeded Hawks.
“We have some gnarly competitors in our locker room that love big challenges,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Miami’s game plan was simple: Try to control the ball and contain Young. Coming off 14 turnovers in Game 3 and playing without their point guard in Lowry, the Heat displayed magnificent poise on the offensive end and finished with just seven turnovers, compared to 15 for Atlanta. Most of those came in garbage time as Miami only had two miscues as a team by the end of the third quarter when it had already built a 19-point lead.
The Heat’s zero turnovers in the first half were a playoff franchise record, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“Everybody to a man in that locker room knew that we couldn’t have a 15-20 turnover game,” Spoelstra said. “That was going to ignite this crowd, ignite that team, so we had to be very coherent with our execution without our quarterback.”
And Young, the breakout star of last year’s playoffs, continued to struggle mightily against Miami. As heroic as his final flourish was in Game 3, the rest of the series has been a nightmare for the fourth-year guard. The Heat held him to nine points on 3-for-11 shooting with five turnovers on Sunday, mirroring his underwhelming efforts in Game 1 (eight points on 1-for-12 shooting) and Game 2 (10 turnovers and 2-for-10 shooting from 3).
“I haven’t been guarded like this … consistently, since high school,” Young said afterwards.
Sunday marked the first game of Young’s four-year career – regular season and postseason combined – where all of his points came on 3-pointers. It was also the first time in his career when he failed to attempt more than one shot from 2-point range. For the series, Young now has 24 turnovers and just 20 made field goals.
Jimmy Butler, who led Miami with 36 points on 12-for-21 shooting, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals, said it’s been the Heat’s team approach that’s made the difference against Atlanta’s star, rattling off eight names – PJ Tucker, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, Victor Oladipo, Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and Lowry – who have shadowed Young 1-on-1 so far.
“You constantly have to have your head on a swivel if you’re him,” Butler said.
And Tucker, who had 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting, eight rebounds and three assists, said part of Miami’s plan was to target Young when it had the ball on offense.
“He’s too good of a scorer not to make him work on defense,” said Tucker, who posted Young up several times Sunday.
Vincent (11 points, four assists) was steady starting in Lowry’s place and Oladipo also benefited from the playing time opened up by the point guard’s absence. The former All-Star guard scored just six points on 3-for-10 shooting but had four assists and more rebounds than Capela (eight to seven) in making his postseason debut for Miami.
Miami outscored Atlanta by 28 in the 23 minutes Oladipo was on the floor.
“He’s really worked diligently, he’s made himself available,” Spoelstra said of Oladipo, who has missed most of the last three seasons because of knee and quadriceps injuries. “You don’t love it that it’s under these circumstances but we knew something would happen – as it always does with every team in the playoffs – because of that energy that he’s giving into this, he was prepared for it. He gave us some really good two-way minutes. “
The Heat can closeout the series in Tuesday’s Game 5 and would play the winner of the Philadelphia-Toronto series in the second round. The 76ers are up 3-1.
“Tonight was a good one, but we got another one that we got to get,” Butler said.