As Atlanta Hawks coach Nate McMillan looked ahead to Tuesday night’s Game 5 of his team’s Eastern Conference playoff series against the Miami Heat at FTX Arena it was with a decided case of déjà . . . ew.

Been there. Seen it. Lost it.

Having been swept out of the first round by the Heat at the start of the 2020 NBA playoffs while coaching the Indiana Pacers, the smothering defensive approach became a case of what’s old is new again.

The constant with the Heat and Erik Spoelstra’s scheme, McMillan said, is procuring the pieces to make it work.

So while Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler remain the anchors, similar to how they were in 2020 against McMillan’s Pacers in the first round, the net cast by the Heat front office again has reeled in a defensive supporting cast to put a McMillan team on its heels.

And, once again, Spoelstra has succeeded as puppet master.

“It’s the system, McMillan said, with his team in a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series going into Tuesday night. “This is a system Miami has played with for a number of years. Of course, he does a great job with this team.

“But the system they have in place defensively, I faced this same defense in Indiana a couple of years ago when I was in Indiana and we got swept in the playoffs.”

With that, McMillan reeled of names of Heat defenders, from Butler and Adebayo, to P.J. Tucker, Kyle Lowry, Gabe Vincent, and Caleb Martin.

“Bam being at that five position, his ability to switch out to guard guards. You bring in a guy like Tucker. You bring in Lowry. Those guys are defensive-minded players,” McMillan said. “A few years ago, they brought in [Andre] Iguodala. Those type of guys.

“So their defense that they’re playing, they recruit personnel to fit their system.”

In some ways, it was as if McMillan was offering a tribute to the collective Heat approach, from Pat Riley on down, with Spoelstra able to turn to next defensive man up.

“They’re pretty solid with Butler mainly being the main guy defensively, McMillan said. “His ability to guard one through five. Bam’s ability to guard one through five. Tucker’s ability to guard one through five. You bring in a guy like Vincent to replace Lowry. His ability to get into the ball and pressure.

“So it’s a system that has been in place for a while with Miami. And they do a good job of recruiting and finding those guys that fit the system they want to play.”

As the series progressed, McMillan turned to small ball in a bid to change the momentum. Instead, he found an ample Heat counter.

“They put a lot of speed out there,” he said. “Basically, really, four guards.”

And that came even with Kyle Lowry out due to a hamstring strain, one that again had him out for Game 5, after sitting out Sunday’s Heat Game 4 win, with Vincent moving into his place and bringing his own defensive energy.

In the end, McMillian proved prescient, perhaps too prescient, when offered his scouting report on the Heat’s defense ahead of this series.

“They force turnovers with their pressure,” he said a week ago. “They do a good job of switching, with Bam being able to guard one through five. So we have to make them defend. Get some ball movement. Be ready for their changing defenses. They will go from a press to a zone.”

Ultimately, the Heat have done all of the above, with all of the aforementioned players coming in waves against Young and the Hawks’ scorers.

“You have to give them credit,” Young said.


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