Once again, the Magic received significant contributions from only two players, Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard, but this time, the Magic won, despite shooting 5 of 23 from behind the arc. Atlanta had the 4th best opponents three point field goal percentage in the league and going into tonight’s game the Magic were shooting just 22% from three against the Hawks this season.
A perplexity of this game brought to the attention of Magic fans by TV announcer David Steele is the odd fact that after picking up 2 fouls in the first 2 minutes of the game, Hawks forward Al Horford was then benched for the remainder of the first half, as the Hawks lost a 10 point lead to find themselves down 6 at the half. Horford started the second half and did not pick up a foul in the entire second half, as he played all 24 minutes of it. He scored all 10 of his 10 points in the last quarter, hitting a few mid range jumpers, going 4 of 11 from the floor.
In my initial analysis of this series, I wrote that the Hawks had a much smaller advanage at power forward than most would think, considering that the Hawks have an All Star in Al Horford at power forward. Tonight, Brandon Bass & Ryan Anderson combined for 16 points and 13 rebounds, and both had 4 offensive rebounds. If they can consistently play like this, as they have all season, it will make the difference in the Magic winning this series.
For the second straight game, Jason Collins had more fouls than points, this time fouling 3 times in 18 minutes while scoring 1 point from the foul line. He is now averaging 1.0 points per game and 4.5 fouls per game. Perhaps the icing on the cake is Collins’ one rebound in 36 minutes of play. If you remember, I cited Collins as a main reason the Hawks “couldn’t be taken seriously.” While they may need to be taken seriously now, I still think if they started Zaza Pachulia at center they would be a much better team.
Magic shooting guard Jason Richardson had another off shooting night, going 3 of 12, but hit two clutch three point shots late in the game to help the Magic put it away. Once again, Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson hurt the Magic, this time combining for 39 points, 25 from Crawford, a new playoff career high for the 11th year shooting guard. Jason Richardson has played solid defense; it just hasn’t mattered. Both Johnson and Crawford bailed the Hawks out several times at the end of shotclocks with long range threes. It kept the Hawks in the game at a time when little else was working.
At one point in the second quarter, with the Magic down 5, J.J. Redick stole the ball and dove onto the court, eventually throwing it over his shoulder to Jameer Nelson, who layed it in. Announcer Pat Garrity remarks “It’s plays like that that can change a series.” The Magic went on a 26-10 run to close the quarter and led by 6 at the half. It seemed from that point onward the Magic had the momentum, though the Hawks did go on one final run and cut the lead to 4. It never got any closer after that, however.
Turkoglu, despite going 4 of 16, actually played a good game. He just missed shots he normally makes. He had a number of great entry passes to Dwight Howard that he would not receive assists for as Howard still made his move. Turkoglu also held down the fort at point guard when Jameer Nelson rested, leaving only 6 minutes of playing time for the struggling Gilbert Arenas. Arenas was second last in the league in field goal percentage of players that played at least 20 minutes a game at 37%. Arenas has made just 5 of his last 16 attempts. He had a great game April 6th against the Bobcats, scoring 25 points in 45 minutes, starting along side Jameer Nelson. Arenas shot 11 free throws in that game, as well, something he used to excel at in his prime years in Washington.
If the Magic can continue to get any help scoring outside of Nelson and Howard, and continue to play the defense they are capable of playing, this series could still end in 5 or 6 games. The Hawks are a mirage of a team, they show potential only to fade every year, and haven’t made any waves in franchise history and have reached the finals twice in team history, both when they were in Saint Louis in 1959-60 and 1960-61. The face of the franchise is Dominique Wilkins and to a lesser extent Spud Webb, and the best the fans have been treated to has been second round playoff exits, when Wilkins and Kevin Willis were at the peak of their powers.
The Hawks were only 24-17 at home this season, the second lowest win total of any team over .500 (the Knicks won 23 and finished .512). The fan base really isn’t that supportive and the arena never gets that loud. There may be more Magic fans showing up at the game, as it is. Dwight Howard attended high school in Atlanta and still has a large fan base in the area. The Hawks have been tougher this season but still don’t represent the real challenge. If the Magic advance, they will face the Chicago Bulls, who are worlds tougher than the Atlanta Hawks.