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Magic simply too good for Hawks
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Orlando barely broke a sweat in downing Atlanta, 114-71, to draw first blood in the series. At times, the Magic seemed to be playing with a five-on-four advantage. At other times, the Hawks resembled little more than a team of selfish strangers.
The story that will garner all the media’s attention, however, is Dwight Howard’s dominance. In only 28 minutes, he accounted for 21 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. But it should be understood that Superman always soars above the crowd when playing against poorly coached, undersized teams — like Atlanta, and unlike Charlotte.
Not only did Howard have his way against Atlanta’s minimal defense, Jameer Nelson got into the paint at his leisure, and Vince Carter gleefully showed off all of the trick shots at his disposal — although on two successive possessions VC launched an air ball and then a baseline flipper that hit the side of the backboard. And everybody else wearing white uniforms also wore ear-to-ear smiles.
Even Rashard Lewis played excellent defense — as when he showed long and strong on the other side of a high screen, thereby scaring Jamal Crawford into committing a turnover.
Moreover, who among us hoop-o-philes could have anticipated that Howard would be whistled for only one dumb foul — an elbow poked into Josh Smith’s face. Equally as unbelievable was Howard’s blatant charge into Jason Collins being called a block on the defender. Perhaps the $35,000 fine levied by the league for Howard’s public disparaging of the officiating was distributed among the refs themselves, and this was how they demonstrated their gratitude.
The Magic did everything right: routinely whipping the ball around the perimeter, always making the extra pass, diligently driving-and-dishing, hustling after every loose ball, busting their guts on fast breaks and in transitional defense. moving without the ball … You name it and they did it.
In so doing, they collected 23 assists, shot a collective 52.4 percent, and out-rebounded the hapless Hawks, 53-35.
While the Magic are a very good ball club, they’re certainly not as good as they looked in Game 1.
On the other hand, while the Hawks just might steal a game in Atlanta, it’s not beyond imagining that they aren’t much better than they demonstrated in their initial postseason confrontation with the Magic.
As ever, after running a paltry few curls off weak-side screens to start the game, the Hawks' offense quickly devolved into a perpetual series of one-on-one adventures. Discounting what occurred in the dregs of garbage time, the Hawks collectively indulged in 31 isos that produced a mere 14 points. Their two main individualistic scorers, Joe Johnson and Crawford, combined to shoot an embarrassing 5 for 22.
The most telling indication of their limited offensive game plan is a comparison of assists — 23 for Orlando against only 12 for Atlanta.
Josh Smith led the Hawks with 14 points on 7-for-14 shooting. He ran, jumped, dunked, and once again wowed everybody with his incandescent athleticism. But Smith also committed several silly fouls, missed all four of his attempted jumpers, and played like an undisciplined schoolyard all-star.
Al Horford struggled to get off a decent shot against the bigger, stronger Howard, and was virtually helpless on defense. Which was precisely the same shortcoming that plagued his teammates on the uphill end of the court — the middle was open, the perimeter was unguarded, and defenders avoided dribble penetrators as if they were lepers.
Forget about the proffered excuses that the Hawks were drained by their seven-game series against the Bucks, and that two days wasn’t time enough for them to recover their chops.
They could have played quadruple overtime the night before and still have put up more of a fight.
At this point, it certainly appears as though the only threat to Orlando’s winning the series in four or five games is its own overconfidence. Which is also not beyond imagining.
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