I understand that I’ve buried the lede a bit here, that talking about Gilbert Arenas scoring 20 off the bench when the Magic went down into a deep, discouraging, 3-1 hole to a team such as Atlanta is the blogging equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. Believe me, I get that. But, given how the game transpired as a sort of parody of the two previous Magic losses in the series, there’s not a lot left to go on. We’ll eulogize the Magic at the proper time, which is to say we’ll eulogize them when they’re eliminated. That’s not here quite yet, but it can be as soon as Tuesday if Orlando doesn’t correct those issues outlined above.
The Magic were a shocking one of 19 from the 3-point line midway through the fourth quarter before Arenas hit a leaning, off-balance 3-point to tie the game at 68-all. It was the first time that the Magic were even in the game since the start after falling behind by as much as 16 points in the second quarter.
Out of the rotation in Game 3 and forced to play on Sunday because of the suspension to Richardson and an injury to Chris Duhon, Arenas was in attack mode and playing with confidence to give the Magic offense a spark. Arenas, who said before the game that he felt he should be playing based on his playoff pedigree, took advantage of his opportunity for playing time and made nine of 18 shots, grabbed five rebounds and handed out two assists.
The one thing going very against the Magic this series is that Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford are so good at creating their own shots that even if you play good defense against them, they will hit shots in big moments. Crawford did it in Game Three and Johnson did it in Game Four. The Magic really do not have a player you trust to do that when push comes to shove. The only thing it seemed Hedo Turkgolu could do with Joe Johnson in the final three minutes was foul him.
About four minutes later, a putback layup by Howard tied the score 78-78 with 5:45 left.
Josh Smith made a hook shot. Johnson sank a floater over Howard’s outstretched arm. And Johnson made a pair of foul shots after he drew a foul on Turkoglu.
Meanwhile, the Magic suddenly went cold. Turkoglu misfired on a 3-pointer, Howard missed a pair of free throws and Turkoglu was called for a charge.
What’s it tell you about this series when the Magic can’t beat the Hawks when Dwight Howard scores 46 points in Game 1 and when Arenas rises from the ashes to score to score 20 in Game 4? Maybe it’s just not meant to be. Maybe just maybe the Hawks, who have now beaten the Magic six of eight times this season, are just the better team.
We keep waiting and waiting and waiting for the Magic shooters to show up in this series, but they keep getting worse and worse and worse. Seriously, can it get any more dreadful than hitting just 2-of-23 from 3-point range Sunday night?
Atlanta’s starting back court was also big as Joe Johnson and Kirk Hinrich combined for 34 points. Johnson scored 20 points and had nine rebounds. He was 7-8 from the free throw line including 6-6 coming down the stretch. Hinrich finished with 14 points, four rebounds, and four assists. However great Hinrich’s offensive contributions, his defense was most valuable to the Hawks. It was Hinrich that was most responsible for Jameer Nelson’s six points on 3-12 shooting. Also consider that it was Hinrich who played 42 minutes in this game while Johnson and Crawford played 33 minutes each.
That the Hawks have to concurrently love and hate Josh Smith as they must have in this game is the reason the team has to see what they might get for him in the offseason (read: point guard/center). As Duff Man said in the comments from the last game: (paraphrasing) Expecting Josh Smith to suddenly want to become fundamentally sound is foolish—you just have to hope he has a good game. In this game, he gambled not once, but twice on the go-by-me-poke-it-from-behind steal attempt, both of which led to baskets for the Magic. He threw wild shots at the hoop, he missed his threes and free throws. That he added a fourth quarter offensive rebound and a couple of nice finishes along the way helped, but when you can’t count on one of your “core” players, you need to shuffle that part of the deck.
Either prolonged exposure to this series is creating an illusion of coherence or Game 4 was the most Hawks/Magic game of this Hawks/Magic series. There were the requisite 88 points scored by the winning team, the terrible shot selection (both teams), the terrible shot-making (Orlando only), the improbably great yet perfectly representative, in kind if not frequency, shot-making of Jamal Crawford, a routine 29 and 17 from Dwight Howard, Jason Collins fouling, 19 unproductive minutes from hideously unqualified Hawk frontcourt reserves, the Hawks building a significant lead despite not playing very good offense, the Magic erasing that lead despite not playing very good offense, and the Hawks prevailing through some combination of the aforementioned Crawford and Collins plus an inefficient but impressive Al Horford, Joe Johnson being efficient but unimpressive for long stretches, Kirk Hinrich making Hawks fans so happy Mike Bibby’s gone, and Josh Smith being inexplicable but not completely useless.
Hinrich (42 minutes) outplayed Jameer. The debate about whether the trade for him was a good one in the big picture won’t be settled for a while. But there’s no longer any question the team is better with him at point guard instead of Bibby, especially since Hinrich has rediscovered his shot (which he can get on his own, unlike his predecessor).
“Yeah, he’s going to get his opportunity again tomorrow. There’s no question. I think that he played great. I’ve tried to say this in his defense all year: If you look, last night with J-Rich out, he knew he would get more extended minutes. So I think he plays more — I’m not going to say ‘relaxed’ — but more confidently that he doesn’t have to worry that it’s going to be a four- or five-minute stint.
“I’m not going to sit him out tomorrow after what he did. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll see what adjustments they make to his pick-and-rolls.”
I’m sorry, but the empathy and goodwill towards a player that has gone through various unfair and crippling injury issues nearly goes out the window when the player continues to fire away as if nothing has gone wrong, while talking up his own skills behind the scenes. Had Gilbert changed his game to suit his floor-bound ways, or attempted to even slightly sound humble as he brags away on record, then we’d feel completely different. Despite what you think of us media, we honestly do want a nice story at the end of our particular day.
When it comes to execution on offense, this year’s Magic are last year’s Hawks. Well, with one exception, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said.
“We don’t have the Jamal Crawford or a Joe Johnson, guys who can break you down off the dribble,” Van Gundy said in what seemed like a subtle swipe at his limited roster.
So Van Gundy knows his team has only one adjustment to make in order to get back into the series.
Van Gundy and his assistant coaches analyzed those attempts, and they found that if they excluded tries that came at the end of a quarter or just as the shotclock expired or were simply bad shots, the Magic went 2-for-15 from beyond the arc.
Of those 15, eight were wide-open.
The Magic made just one of those eight wide-open attempts.
(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).
Tags: 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