Following up on what ended up, through the combined efforts of Saturday night and Sunday morning, being a throw-away line in the game recap...
The Atlanta Hawks cut a 21-point halftime deficit to 11 with 19 seconds left in the third quarter of Game 3 Saturday night. James Jones made a three-pointer on Miami's subsequent possession to push their lead back to 14 at quarter's end. It was extremely unlikely that Atlanta would come back and win the game. It was not, I felt, unreasonable to expect a team that carved an 18-point third quarter lead down to five points within the final five minutes of Game 2 to fight to the end. That didn't happen and it didn't happen in rather frustrating circumstances.
First, some background on minutes played leading up to the final quarter: Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, and Al Horford all played the entire third quarter; Zaza Pachulia played the last three minutes of the third quarter, relieving Josh Smith after Smith picked up his fourth foul; Flip Murray played the final two-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter in relief of Maurice Evans.
The Hawks opened the final quarter with the same five that finished the third: Bibby, Murray, Johnson, Horford, Pachulia. That was just the first of seven units Mike Woodson would use before indisputable garbage time begins at the 3:37 mark and the Hawks down 27.
This unit lasted 44 seconds into the quarter. With the Hawks now down 17 and Al Horford at the free throw line, Maurice Evans replaced Bibby.
This unit played a one minute and 12 second stretch most notable for Miami getting five offensive rebounds on a single possession culminating in a Mario Chalmers tip-in. Following a Joe Johnson turnover/foul exacta, Josh Smith (who, one guesses, needed to sit out the first couple minutes of the fourth quarter in deference to a complicated foul trouble avoidance algorithm) replaced Pachulia.
1:42. Outscored 5-2. Pachulia comes back in for Horford, who doesn't return for the rest of the game.
Another minute-and-12-second stint highlighted by a Mo Evans block, two Josh Smith offensive rebounds, and two made free throws from Smith. Then, with the Hawks down 22 and 7:10 remaining in the game, Bibby returns and Evans heads to the bench.
After 29 seconds, one Udonis Haslem made jump shot, and a Zaza Pachulia trip to the free throw line that would return the game to its 22-point margin, Evans comes in for Joe Johnson whose night is through.
Miami outscores the Hawks 5-0 during the 1:33 this unit is on the court. With 5:08 left in the game and the Hawks down 27, Acie Law IV replaces Mike Bibby signalling Mike Woodson's concession. Starters Smith and Evans and top reserves Murray and Pachulia stay in the game for some reason.
After a further minute-and-a-half, Smith and Evans are replaced by Mario West and Solomon Jones. Yakubu Diawara, Chris Quinn, and Joel Anthony enter the game for Miami, joining Daequan Cook and Michael Beasley on the court for the duration. Murray and Pachulia will play another 1:46 before Thomas Gardner and Othello Hunter get a run out.
It's my contention that this series of substitutions indicates both an inability to think ahead strategically (The Hawks never made an all-out push to get back in the game* nor did they fully concede defeat until well after the game was out of reach.) and a tendency to make decisions in a purely reactive manner. Without Marvin Williams, Woodson chose to play just seven guys. He had limited options but that didn't stop him from impulsively and/or compulsively shuttling players in and out of the game to no real purpose. It seemed as if the head coach were trying to create the impression of a control freak but succeeding only in revealing how little control he was capable of taking in the moment.
*Despite all the combinations listed above, Woodson never hit on putting his five best available players: Bibby, Johnson, Evans, Smith, and Horford on the court together during the fourth quarter.