It’s tempting, I believe, for Magic fans to panic here. I’m not entirely sure that’s warranted. Yes, the Hawks scored efficiently. I understand that much. But it’s the Hawks’ first truly great offensive performance against the Magic’s typically stout defense since March 22nd, 2008, when Mike Bibby (five three-pointers) helped the Hawks score 112 points in 96 possessions… in an Orlando victory. Indeed, the Hawks went more than three years without cracking 1.1 points per possession against Orlando, and I’m skeptical their jump-shooting core of Johnson, Jamal Crawford, and Josh Smith can continue to hit mostly difficult shots with a high degree of accuracy.
On the flipside, Jason Richardson and Turkoglu need to wake up. It’s true that Van Gundy needed to do a better job of involving Richardson and Turkoglu in the offense but they need to step up themselves. Turkoglu decided to continue his odd pattern of passing up open shots, either creating looks that were more difficult for him or not shooting the basketball at all. As for Richardson, he simply needs to seek out the ball more. It’s imperative that Turkoglu gets involved in way more pick and rolls with Howard, but it’s equally as important for him to come off those picks with a shoot-first mentality. Richardson, on the other hand, needs to have plays called for him where he’s running around staggered screens, that way he can have open looks on the perimeter for jumpshots.
Two things that went wrong for the Magic
Howard received almost no help. Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson combined for seven first-half points, forcing Howard to carry the load by himself. Besides Howard, the Magic made just 6-of-23 shots in the first 24 minutes.
The Magic’s defense wasn’t up to par. The Hawks scored 68 combined points in the second and third quarters and finished with a 51.4 field-goal percentage.
In fact, a case could be made that the Hawks are simply better than the Magic and should be favored in this series. Forget about last year when the Magic swept Atlanta out of the playoffs by an average of 25 points per victory. Those days of dominating the Hawks are done. You can choose to believe that the Hawks beating the Magic three of four times during the regular season is meaningless. I say it’s not. And Stan Van Gundy agrees.
Redick scored four points, didn’t have an assist and struggled to guard Joe Johnson. Still, he finished a team-best plus-14 and he reported that he had no lingering problems from the lower abdominal strain that forced him to miss Orlando’s final 17 regular-season games.
“Everything was fine,” Redick said. “I’ve got to get back in the rhythm of things, but physically it was fine.”
Atlanta’s let Howard get his and stop everyone else game plan was carried out near flawlessly except for a brief stretch in the third quarter when Jameer Nelson got going. Another by-product of the post trade Magic is that they don’t have a great deal of players that can create a shot off the dribble. With the Hawks single covering Howard and doing an adequate job on the pick and roll, they were able to run Orlando shooters off of the three point line and force them to do something that they are not very comfortable with.
Every Hawk I asked said they felt like Orlando’s biggest adjustment in Game 2 is that they will be much, much more aggressive than they were tonight.
I can definitely see that, but the trades they made sent out a couple of the more physical players they had (Pietrus, Gortat) that gave Atlanta problems. I don’t necessarily see Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, JJ Redick, and Gilbert Arenas being able to muster serious physicality. Maybe more Brandon Bass and Q. Richardson, but that’s all I can come up with.
Also encouraging were two things written too rarely in this space this season: Josh Smith’s shot selection and Joe Johnson’s aggressive offensive play. Smith used just 2 of his 12 field goal attempts on shots in between the paint and the three-point line and made seven trips to the free throw line. Johnson took 9 of his 16 shots inside of 15 feet, got to the line 8 times himself, and used his ability to make long, difficult shots more often to bail out the Hawks on difficult offensive possessions than as the basis for difficult offensive possessions.
The Hawks said they gained confidence from beating Orlando in the final three of their four regular-season meetings. But the Magic had their healthy regulars for just the final meeting, an 85-82 Hawks victory at Philips Arena.
Those games seem to matter less than Orlando’s domination in last season’s postseason but the Hawks backed up their confident talk.
“We are here to win,” Hawks center Jason Collins said. “We are not here to get a free T-shirt and head home or anything like that. We accomplished the fist step. We got the win tonight, and Part 2 is on Tuesday night.”
Don’t include Dwight Howard(notes) in that. The All-Star big man pivoted and spun his way to a stunning 46 points in this win, and though he turned it over eight times, he was predictably (and sadly) all Orlando had on defense, and just about all the team had offensively. The only other things the Magic came through with consistently came was a perpetual lack of concentration when it came time to execute a play or shot, and dodgy defense. Sure, Atlanta’s perimeter hitters were nailing shots from all over, but Orlando should have played much, much better. Even Jameer Nelson(notes), who nailed 10 of 18 shots on his way toward 27 points, left me wanting. Probably because I’m a huge jerk.
So when the second half came around, the Hawks went to a different approach. They started fouling Howard more aggressively. Howard finished the first half 8-9 from the line. There was literally no way to stop him. Second half? 6-13. That’s seven more points he left on the board. The Magic still would have lost, but it should be noted, because that was a subtle correction the Hawks made. Let Howard do whatever he wants for 24 minutes while you focus on getting the shooters out of rhythm. Then make him earn it at the line in the second half. Throw in some frustrating physical play that led to Howard’s first technical, and it was one of the most disappointing 45-point playoff performances in NBA playoff history. Disappointing for Howard, not because of him. There wasn’t much more Howard could have done. We can point out the missed free throws, but Howard still hit 64% of his shots from the stripe. But to have that kind of a performance and lose? Unheard of.
Nelson has the ability to create shots for himself — as he showcased on Saturday — but the rest of the Magic are largely reliant on others to produce points for them. Howard kicking the ball out of double teams is typically one such avenue for shot creation, but if the Hawks are committed to shackling Orlando’s perimeter players, then the Magic offense will be similarly restricted. Nelson simply doesn’t have the playmaking ability to orchestrate a traditional offense (and before you even start, Hedo Turkoglu doesn’t, either), and without an additional source of shot creation, Orlando’s offensive potential is a bit limited.
(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and ESPN 1080′s Magic Insider (http://espn1080.com). Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to follow him daily. You can download the HTD app here).
Topics: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks, Brandon Bass, Chris Duhon, Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, J.j. Redick, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Kirk Hinrich, Larry Drew, Marvin Williams, Orlando Magic, Quentin Richardson, Ryan Anderson, Stan Van Gundy