Hawks-Heat -- where blowouts happen.
This one was over early, and it was not difficult to analyze why. When a balanced, talented team takes on a superstar-led team with a questionable supporting cast, and said superstar is severely hampered by back spasms, a blowout is likely to follow. In the decisive first half, Dwyane Wade was tentative, deferring to his teammates and almost never penetrating. At one point he had to go to the locker room after banging his head on the floor in a collision with Josh Smith. Wade missed five minutes, and ended the half with six points, a flagrant foul, a technical foul and, presumably, a headache.
Meanwhile, the Hawks displayed their typical balance, with Mike Bibby taking the lead. The up-and-down point guard had 15 of his 17 points in the first half, and Joe Johnson finally put up some big scoring numbers, finishing with a team-high 25.
"We're such a tough team to match up with when we have five, six guys playing well. They can't focus on any one guy," said Maurice Evans, who again started in place of Marvin Williams. "When Dwyane Wade is scoring and nobody else is contributing, [the Heat] are an easy team to beat."
Of course, this being a Hawks home playoff game, you know Smith is going to show up. In his 12 playoff games between this year and last, Smith is averaging 21 points on 53 percent shooting at home and 11.6 points on 28 percent shooting on the road. Smith had two beautiful assists in the first half and closed with 20 points and eight boards.
He also added some spice to the series with a late, uncontested dunk attempt. Smith tried to go under his leg on a breakaway -- slam-dunk-contest style -- but lost the ball going up. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said he felt the Hawks "were trying to embarrass us," while Smith countered by saying, "I'm not trying to make any friends out there."
"I spoke to Josh, and that's something that we keep in house," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "Hopefully, Josh wasn't trying to show anyone up. He was just trying to make one of his plays at the rim."
Wade did his best to lug his team back in the game in the third quarter, shaking off his back woes and pouring in 19 points, but the Hawks did enough to keep the Heat at arm's length. Wade finished with 29.
"Dwyane actually looked like he started to loosen up in the second half, and that's encouraging for us," Spoelstra said. "He's starting to feel better the more he goes, so maybe another couple of days will even help it out a little bit more."
There were a few scuffles, some hard fouls and a few injuries. In addition to Wade's head, Miami's Jermaine O'Neal suffered a neck injury and Hawks center Al Horford turned an ankle on a hard foul by James Jones in the second quarter and did not return.
"After five games, I don't think anybody on either side likes each other," Spoelstra said. "The only thing we can do is bring this thing back for a Game 7."
Joe Johnson. The Hawks' star guard can still do more -- he shot just 6-for-15 from the floor -- but he finished with 25 points, a team-high six assists and six rebounds. Johnson was able to penetrate more than in past games, creating shots and getting himself to the line for 15 free throw attempts.
James Jones. With Wade obviously hurting in the first half, the Heat needed someone in the backcourt to take the pressure off Udonis Haslem and O'Neal. Jones ended up with just six points in 42 minutes, five below is average.
Solomon Jones' hard foul on Wade touched off a bit of a fracas early in the second quarter that resulted in four technical fouls. The incident seemed to wake up the sluggish Hawks, who were on fire the remainder of the quarter. Atlanta scored on 19 of its final 20 possessions and outscored the Heat 37-17 heading into the break.
There have been eight lead changes in the entire series, none after the first quarter. The Celtics and Bulls had 13 lead changes in the fourth quarter and overtime in Game 5 alone.
Spirit the Hawk was nowhere to be found during introductions after his adventures in Game 2. Presumably, the bird has been benched for the remainder of the season. ... As the fourth quarter began, the Atlanta P.A. announcer bellowed, 'It's the fourth quarter Hawks fans! Make some noise!' Noise has been hard to come by in the fourth quarter this series. Smith's missed under-the-leg dunk attempt with four minutes left brought the most buzz. ... The Hawks announced a sellout of 19,051, but that appeared to be a stretch from press row. A strong crowd, but it wasn't hard to spot a number of empty seats.
If Wade plays like he did in the second half on Wednesday night, the Heat have a good chance of bringing the series back to Atlanta for a Game 7. But if Wade's back limits him like it did in the first half, the Heat do not have the horses to cover for him.
The Heat were clearly disturbed by what they perceived to be some hot-dogging by Smith, so look for a few more confrontations and hard fouls in Miami. The Hawks are deeper, they overcame their road demons in Game 4 and Johnson is coming off his best game of the series.
Regardless of the outcome of Game 6, the Hawks will be playing on Sunday -- there is a better chance they'll be playing that day in Cleveland than in Atlanta.