There was something about playing Orlando last season that brought out the best in the Atlanta Hawks.
That trend apparently has trickled into a new year.
Using most of the same blueprint that allowed them to dominate the Magic in both the regular season and playoffs last season, the Hawks used their size and some timely free throw shooting late to grind out an 89-87 overtime victory Friday night.
Josh Smith had 23 points and 19 rebounds, and Joe Johnson scored four of his 14 points in the extra period and added five assists for the Hawks, who won their fourth straight regular-season meeting with Orlando dating to last season. Atlanta won its second straight overall since snapping a three-game losing streak.
”This team knows our offensive and our defensive schemes, and we know their schemes. We just gotta try to outplay them,” Smith said. ”Tonight we were able to come in and play up to our ability and play with a certain kind of physicality.”
Ryan Anderson led the Magic with 21 points, and Dwight Howard had 18 points and 18 rebounds in Orlando’s first meeting with the Hawks since being eliminated by them in last season’s playoffs.
The Magic dropped their second in three games and lost for the first time this season to a Southeast Division opponent.
”There’s really not too much I can say other than we had opportunities and we could have executed a little better,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. ”Obviously if we made some shots, it would have been a different story. But we played hard, I thought, and played together and stuck together.”
Atlanta – much the way it did in the playoffs – enjoyed matchup advantages against Orlando at every position except center, and the Hawks continually pestered the Magic both inside and on the perimeter. With both Al Horford and Jason Collins out because of injuries, the Hawks’ remaining big men managed to stay out of foul trouble throughout.
The teams traded baskets to open the extra frame before two straight baskets by Johnson put the Hawks up 87-83.
Anderson hit a 3-pointer from the wing to cut it to one and Smith threw it away on Atlanta’s next touch. But Hedo Turkoglu missed a jumper from the corner and forced the Magic to start fouling with less than 24 seconds left.
Marvin Williams hit 1 of 2 from the line, giving the ball back to the Magic with 15.8 seconds to play. Jason Richardson drove to the basket and was fouled but missed the second free throw. Zaza Pachulia won a scrum for the rebound and put the Hawks up 89-87 after his trip to the charity stripe.
The Magic got two looks from 3-point range on their final possession – one by Nelson and another by Richardson – but Smith finally pulled down a rebound as the horn sounded.
Was this the gutsiest win the Hawks have had this season?
”It was without a doubt,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. ”Coming in here a little short-handed and a little depleted, I thought our guys did a great job in just responding to the challenge. We really wanted to come in here and play with aggression … I thought we really did a great job.”
Atlanta carried a seven-point advantage into the fourth quarter and it grew as high as nine before a pair of free throws by Anderson cut it to 73-70 with less than 5 minutes left in regulation.
That momentum was almost immediately halted, though, after three consecutive Magic possessions ended in turnovers. The Hawks capitalized on each and pushed their lead to 78-70.
The Magic scored six straight points, including back-to-back layups by Nelson, to cut it to 78-76. Following a missed jumper by Smith on the other end, Orlando called a timeout with 12.2 seconds to play.
Nelson drove to the basket and floated a layup attempt over Smith and Johnson that trickled of the rim, but Howard was there to dunk the rebound.
The Hawks had 1.2 seconds to get off a shot, but Jeff Teague didn’t release his jumper before the regulation buzzer.
”I don’t think that our energy was very good at all, but we picked it up in the fourth,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ”We just didn’t play very well, that’s the bottom line. We didn’t play very well, but we stuck in there … We just didn’t get it done in the end.”
Atlanta’s schedule doesn’t get any easier, with Friday starting a stretch that will see it play six of its next seven games on the road. The trip includes matchups with Miami, the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago and surging New York.
Forward Marvin Williams, who had 13 points and six rebounds, said that despite missing Horford’s presence in the middle, the Hawks are still developing chemistry with the pieces they have.
The Hawks started the season 7-4 with Horford and are 11-6 since he went down with a torn left pectoral in early January.
”I think we’re just trying to keep our head above water,” Williams said. ”I think when Al went down everyone collectively tried to put forth just a little more effort. You can’t really fill that void, but we’re trying our best.”
Notes: Howard was whistled for his eighth technical of the season for arguing a charging call in the third quarter. He is now five away from a one-game suspension. … Richardson has made at least three 3-pointers in each of the Magic’s last five games. … Anderson, who entered Friday’s game leading the NBA in 3-pointers made, said he has been invited to participate in the All-Star 3-point contest.