Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 1/6/12
ATLANTA Miamis triple-overtime win in Atlanta on Thursday night wasnt of the instant classic variety. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likened it to a heavyweight fight telling forward Shane Battier that he and Hawks star Joe Johnson were against the ropes just leaning on each other at the end of the game but this wasnt Ali-Frazier. The Heats 116-109 road victory avenging its Monday loss to Atlanta in Miami, its only loss of the season was an example of how a gutsy squad, missing its top two stars, can out-will and out-tough an uninspired Jekyll-Hyde squad on their own court. It also was another source of dismay for a suddenly reeling Hawks squad.To watch 48 minutes of Heat basketball absent of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade is to be inevitably underwhelmed. James and Wade, both nursing injuries, joined their teammates in a timeout huddle midway through the first quarter only the superstars were in suits. The patrons booed. They wanted to see force, virtuosity, transcendence. Instead they got 63 minutes of intermittently compelling basketball, a close game that, again, highlighted the Hawks lack of foot on neck focus and exhibited clearly that this is a deeper Miami team than last seasons runner-up.It also reminded folks that Chris Bosh yeah, that other dude hasnt forgotten how to be The Man. It wasnt in spectacular fashion, but Bosh methodically dictated the game with 33 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and two blocks, and Atlanta didnt have an answer.People forget all the time, Bosh said about his career as The Big One in Toronto. But today was nothing I hadnt seen before. Its not even about trying to carry a team. Its just being the best leader I can be.After Bosh hit a 25-foot 3-pointer to effectively send the game to overtime (a lucky shot, he called it), he swaggered backwards up the court and before he turned to the bench to get his nods and pounds from James and Wade, he stopped and met his team near midcourt for high-fives. They were his supporting cast on this night.The game was on its way to a Heat blowout midway through the third quarter, until Bosh had to leave with four fouls. He already had dropped 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and Miami was up 12. The Hawks clawed back while he was on the bench, but just as it looked like they were going to eke out a win late in the fourth, Bosh made the clutch buckets. He was by far the most dominant player of the game. Its easy to forget amid the Wade-James shadow and the harsh criticism some warranted, some just plan mean-spirited and irrational that Bosh is an Olympian and All-Star. When he was on the court, he anchored mismatchmisfit lineups and kept them in a game against a perennial playoff squad. Speaking of the Hawks theyve got issues. But they seem to always have issues. Struggling at home against a team without its two best players, and just two nights after giving up a 19-point lead in what forward Marvin Williams describes as a meltdown in Chicago, is as big as an issue can be this early in the season.Atlantas starting five shot a combined 21 of 66. There was no fire, no sense of righting the Chicago wrong, no seeming collective agenda to outclass the undermanned opponent just sleepwalking.When Willie Green fumbled away the Hawks final possession of the second OT, the few fans that stayed groaned. The Hawks didnt even score in the final overtime.There was a total mental letdown, Hawks coach Larry Drew said. Ive been in these situations enough times where key players from opposing teams dont play and theres letdown. I saw it the first couple of minutes of the game. I didnt see that sense of urgency that I saw down in Miami.In semi-defense of Atlanta and in homage to Miami, its necessary to point out the inspired play of the Heat role players. Udonis Haslem, healthy and leading the team in rebounding, had 14 points and 11 boards. Battier played nearly 50 minutes of heady basketball. Norris Cole, the rookie guard out of Cleveland State, was the best player on the court in the second quarter, but he barely played in the second half because Mario Chalmers played one of his best games as a pro with 29 points and eight assists.He grew up before our professional eyes, was how Spoelstra referred to Chalmers performance. And then there was rookie guard Terrel Harris, undrafted out of Oklahoma State, who had nine points, 14 rebounds, a slick behind-the-back, no-look assist and 44 minutes of hustle. T-Harris has been doing this in practice, but hes been a secret to all of you, Spoelstra said. Hes a playmaker on both ends.You get the feeling that this Heat team might come out of Wade and James absence as a better squad.The guys realize that it doesnt matter who is in a Heat uniform. Its about the standard of play, Battier said. If youre asked to go out and play, we expect you to play at a high level and play winning basketball.But then he joked that its much easier when they have No. 3 and No. 6 out there. But its great, he added, to know we can go down the line and the next man will step in.
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