Originally Published: December 23, 2013

1. Heat Edge Tough Spurs Team From Atlanta

By Israel Gutierrez | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Bash the Eastern Conference all you want -- and most of it is deserved -- but the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks put on a 2013-NBA-Finals-like performance at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday night.

There's a fairly good reason it looked and felt similar to that classic Heat-Spurs clash -- about as similar as it could in a December game that also was missing Dwyane Wade, who sat out the game for rest.

LeBron James
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsIt took a big effort, but LeBron and the Heat head into Christmas on a five-game win streak.

"Take the names off the back of the jerseys and that's the San Antonio blueprint of how they play," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Hawks after his Heat pulled out a 121-119 overtime win.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was with the Spurs since 1994, working his way from video coordinator to assistant coach (similar to Spoelstra's path with Miami) until this season. Now he's bringing the Spurs' way to Atlanta.

But there was even more than just styles that set off NBA Finals flashbacks. There was LeBron hitting critical jump shots, late-game strategy that basketball junkies had to admire and, of course, a three-point play from Ray Allen that sent this one to overtime just like Game 6. Well, not just like Game 6. This one came via free throws when Allen was fouled by DeMarre Carroll. And this play was intended to go to Allen, rather than the Game 6 scramble off the Chris Bosh offensive rebound.

There was an additional twist to Monday's play. It was essentially drawn up by LeBron James.

It wasn't enough that LeBron scored 38 points, including a furious stretch in the final 1:49 of regulation that saw him hit consecutive threes and finish a poster-worthy dunk over Paul Millsap to nearly erase a seven-point Atlanta lead.

No, it wasn't enough that LeBron took a season-high 28 shots (previous high was 20), grabbed eight rebounds, dished six assists, nabbed two steals and didn't commit a turnover. Or that he defended every position on the floor, from Kyle Korver to Al Horford to Paul Millsap to Lou Williams.

LeBron also adjusted a play Spoelstra had drawn up, knowing the Hawks weren't about to allow another thunderous finish at the rim.

So trailing 111-108, the Heat took an extra few moments in the timeout huddle, with official Steven Anderson having to break up the Miami discussion as LeBron was getting in several final words.

The result was a baseline drive from LeBron on the right side, only to find Allen sprinting open to the opposite corner, where he was fouled on the game-tying attempt.

"I was just able to turn the corner the previous play to get the dunk," James said. "I felt like they would pay some attention to me, if not all attention to me if I drove again. I had Ray sprint up the floor from the weak side, and when I drove I had [Mario Chalmers] set a back screen for him to the corner. He had a great look. I thought it was going in.

"Spo was drawing up something we've worked on. I just had a different vision in my head. He let me roll with it."

And why not? He was, after all, on a roll on the court. Might as well see if his hot hand would continue on the dry-erase board.

"It was a heady suggestion, and that's what that whole communication was about," Spoelstra said. "That's actually where we've gotten to, where we're actually coherent in huddles. We communicate. It's not everybody screaming and yelling."

Budenholzer followed with a unique play call of his own, tossing a lob pass to the rim from Pero Antic to sharpshooter Korver, who couldn't quite gather and get off a good shot (he thought Chalmers undercut him, but no foul was called).

"Obviously, no one ever expects Kyle Korver to go for a lob," James said. "So it was a pretty good play to draw up."

It took a do-it-all effort from LeBron because, well, the Hawks played Spurs basketball almost better than the Spurs.

The Jeff Teague-Horford pick-and-roll was incredibly efficient (they combined for 47 points). Korver was doing his normal part, hitting five 3-pointers, including what looked like a dagger from 26 feet to put the Hawks up 107-100.

And then there was the surprise floor spacer, Millsap.

Well, not necessarily a surprise to Miami. This is, after all, the same player who hit three 3-pointers while scoring 46 points for the Jazz on Nov. 9, 2010, bringing Utah back from 26 points down to win in this same building.

But it had to be something of a shocker, even to the Heat, when Millsap goes 7-of-10 from 3-point territory (he hit seven of his first eight from distance) to add another legitimate element to this Hawks offense.

"Millsap has redefined his game," James said. "Obviously, he can still go down there and make shots around the rim, but for the better of that team, he spreads the floor."

Millsap eventually fouled out with 25 points and 10 rebounds, his final foul coming on a Michael Beasley drive, with the ensuing free throws giving Miami the lead for good, 120-119, with 9.2 seconds remaining.

Beasley, who'd missed seven games with a hamstring strain, scored 10 critical points in 20 minutes -- all coming after halftime.

Without that contribution, or Allen's efficient 7-of-10 shooting night, or Chris Andersen's 12 points and nine boards, or Chris Bosh's four blocks (Both eventually left the game to receive eight stitches inside his upper lip from an inadvertent Millsap elbow), it's likely the Hawks would've left Miami with an impressive victory.

Regardless, Budenholzer and the Hawks certainly have the Heat's respect.

"He's brought that [Spurs] culture to the East," James said. "It's not a good thing for the East."

Dimes past: Dec. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 21

Israel Gutierrez is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.

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