Let’s rewind back to 2021, when the Atlanta Hawks were in the process of shocking the NBA world. After earning the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks went on an improbable run to the conference finals, defeating the higher seeded New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers before losing to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in six games.
They were led to that round by point guard Trae Young, who Atlanta got in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks during the 2018 NBA Draft in-exchange for Luka Doncic. Up to that point, many felt the Mavericks got the better end of that deal, but it was Young who was able to lead his team to the conference finals first.
After 2021, the Hawks looked poised to be a force in the East for years to come. The surprise playoff run was seen as something that was early for a team full of young talent, and with the fresh scars from playoff battles, it would serve them well going forward.
In the two seasons after, Atlanta has gone through lots of changes and growing pains, struggling to get to the Play-In Tournament in each campaign. Last season, they defeated the Charlotte Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers before losing to the Miami Heat (the top seed in the East) in the first round in five games.
Now, it’s the Heat that stand in the way of the Hawks getting into the playoffs, with the two meeting Tuesday night in Miami. Primarily, the rosters are the same, meaning there probably isn’t much reason to believe the result would be different. With that said, here are three reasons why Atlanta will win this game.
3. Trae Young and Dejounte Murray go on a scoring spree
The Hawks were in search of a running mate to pair with Young in the backcourt, and they found their man in Dejounte Murray, via trade with the San Antonio Spurs. By bringing Murray into the fold, Atlanta has a legitimate scorer who can take some of the load off of Young, especially when they play teams like the Heat.
When Miami defeated the Hawks in the playoffs last season, they did so with a defense that threw constant pressure at Young, which took its toll as the series went on. With Murray in the backcourt, it makes that task a little tougher.
Keeping that in mind, the pair of Young and Murray will have to go ballistic in the scoring column, and they will combine for somewhere between 60 and 65 points. It would definitely help if the starting backcourt could get backup from other spots, but this is the time where star players have to carry their respective teams, and that’s the tasks awaiting Young and Murray.
The Heat are still ninth in the league in points per game given up, so it’s not like scoring will be easy. With that said, Murray was brought to Atlanta for matchups like this.
2. The Hawks will speed the pace up
Miami’s half court defense is as tough as there is to score on, so it’s imperative the Hawks get a few transition baskets when they can. In fact, they should push the ball early and often, even off of made baskets. The Heat are a disciplined team that don’t beat themselves often. Whatever mistakes the Hawks do force have to turn into points on the other end.
Atlanta coach Quin Snyder will decide to have the squad crank up their own pressure, and disrupt the rhythm of Miami. The Heat primarily run their offense through forward Jimmy Butler and forward/center Bam Adebayo. The Hawks will throw different traps at both Butler and Adebayo, deflecting passes that lead to fast break opportunities. The strategy will lead to between 25 and 30 transition points, getting the game to a higher-scoring contest than Miami would probably like.
1. Atlanta plays tougher than Miami
This has nothing to do with stats or analytics. In games like this, desire and want-to is what determines wins and losses. There aren’t too many teams that are tougher than the Heat, and whatever the team playing them gets is earned. On top of that, there will be a few bumps and bruises that come from a battle with Miami.
Atlanta has played the Heat enough to know what to expect, and they’ll be ready to meet force with force of their own. In other words, they won’t get pushed around on the court. Sometimes, it’s about whose the bigger bully, and on this night, the Hawks will be the one left standing.