MIAMI — Atlanta played zone defense. Tracy McGrady found his zone.
And with that, Miami’s unbeaten start came to an end.
Joe Johnson scored 21 points, McGrady made a pair of big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and the Hawks recovered from early 10-point deficits to beat the Heat 100-92 on Monday night.
McGrady and Al Horford each scored 16 for the Hawks (4-1), who opened the final period on a 15-3 run to take control. McGrady made perhaps the two biggest plays of the night in the final minutes, first throwing a lob to Josh Smith for a dunk, then hitting a 3-pointer that gave the Hawks a 93-84 lead with 2:26 left.
"Been a long time since I had that feeling," McGrady said. "It feels good. It feels right."
LeBron James scored 28 points, Chris Bosh scored 19 and Dwyane Wade finished with 12 points and 10 assists for Miami (5-1). The Heat were outscored 33-21 in the fourth quarter and struggled against Atlanta’s zone defense, which not only slowed Miami down but disrupted its rhythm for long stretches.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said not only was the zone effective on the court, it got into Miami’s heads as well.
"We need to work through it," Spoelstra said. "Look, we’re going to see enough of it that we will have our breakthrough. We hope to have it sooner than later. … But you can see, our minds were heavy from that point on and our minds were occupied rather than playing free."
McGrady and Jannero Pargo made 3-pointers midway through the fourth, giving Atlanta what was then its biggest lead at 82-74. Miami twice cut the lead to four, the second time when Udonis Haslem made a free throw with 3:24 left.
The Heat got no closer. Off a set play called during a timeout, McGrady’s lob to Smith gave Atlanta some breathing room, and then the Florida native connected from beyond the arc on the left wing to essentially seal the win.
McGrady scored 13 in the fourth, his biggest final quarter since November 2008.
"He played exceptionally well," James said of McGrady. "When you’re born a scorer, you’re always a scorer. No matter what may happen to athleticism or anything like that, he’s a natural born scorer and we saw that tonight."
As has been the case regularly this season, Miami came out flying.
A right-handed dunk by the left-handed Bosh — he went by three Hawks on the play, sprawling to the court on the landing — less than a minute into the game got the Heat started. Wade threw a long alley-oop pass to James for another slam and a 20-10 lead.
And when 6-foot-10-inch Atlanta forward Vladimir Radmanovic tried to dunk on the 6-4 Wade in the second quarter, not only did he get rejected at the rim he got a stare-down as well.
More often than not so far in this young season, once the Heat get the highlight machine going — as they did against Dallas in the season opener and Charlotte on Sunday — they’ve simply run away from opponents.
Not in this game. Atlanta had plenty of answers.
"The zone changed the rhythm of the game," Hawks coach Larry Drew said.AROUND THE LEAGUE
GINOBILI BREAKS HAND IN LOSS — At Minneapolis, Kevin Love had 24 points and 15 rebounds to carry Minnesota to a 106-96 win over San Antonio, which lost star guard Manu Ginobili to a broken left hand. Ginobili hurt his shooting hand in the second quarter. The two-time All-Star will be examined in San Antonio today.
THUNDER SUFFER FIRST DEFEAT — At Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki scored 10 of his 26 points in the third quarter, lifting Dallas to a 100-87 victory over Oklahoma City, leaving no unbeaten teams in the NBA. The Thunder are 5-1.
ALLEN POWERS CELTICS — At Boston, Ray Allen scored 11 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and the Celtics won for the second straight night over Washington, 100-92. Wizards coach Flip Saunders was ejected only 1:46 into the game.
RAPTORS EDGE KNICKS — At New York, Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan each scored 21 points, and Toronto held on to defeat the Knicks, 90-85. Carmelo Anthony had 35 points and 11 rebounds for New York, which was without Amare Stoudemire, who has a sprained left ankle.
JAZZ TURN BACK HORNETS — At Salt Lake City, Al Jefferson scored 22 points and Devin Harris added 19 as Utah handed New Orleans its third loss in a row, 94-90. Jarrett Jack scored 27 points to lead the Hornets.
PISTONS CONTROL HOWARD — At Auburn Hills, Mich., Ben Gordon had 26 points, and Detroit played well defensively in an 89-78 victory over Orlando. The Magic’s Dwight Howard had 19 points and seven rebounds before fouling out with 2:46 to play.