A completely subjective view on the Atlanta Hawks’ February 23rd victory over the Orlando Magic and the rivalry itself.
The sting that came with the Orlando Magic triumphantly walking out of Philips Arena after a clean 2010 second round sweep resonates every time I see the silver and blue. The Magic and Hawks are by all accounts rivals, and their humiliating beatdown from two years ago hasn’t subsided. Sure, beating them in six games in round one last year was sweet, sweet revenge, but I want nothing more than to see this Magic team be run into the ground by the very same team they ran into the ground two seasons ago.
That’s why it was delightful to watch Josh Smith walk all over the Magic earlier this month in an overtime victory. He chalked up 23 points, 19 boards, and five assists in a classic Smoove night. Thursday night’s game was more of the same, but it was also completely different.
Josh Smith asserted his dominance early Thursday night, scoring the first seven Atlanta points and responding well to his awful performance last night against the Knicks. It’s games like these when you wonder how on earth Luol Deng, Roy Hibbert, and Rajon Rondo got the starting nod over Smith. Of course, its nights like last when you realize why they did. Regardless, Smith, caught up in all the snubbery, responded well and set the tone early for a Hawks team that is in dire need of some scoring at this particular moment.
With Joe Johnson and Al Horford out, the Hawks had no business winning this game– none. That’s what makes it all the sweeter. As long as Orlando is rolling out with Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson, it shouldn’t even be a game against a Josh Smith and a band of misfits Hawks crew. The Magic are unquestionably deeper and more talented than a Hawks team without Al Horford. Without Joe Johnson too, the Magic should win by 30 points. They should have, but they didn’t. For some reason, the tables have turned. The Hawks are 9-3 against the Magic over the last two seasons, including the playoffs, and more relevant, including last night.
There the Hawks were, boasting a 17-point halftime lead behind Smith’s 14 points and Jannero Pargo’s 15 points (?!), and all order seemed restored but yet distorted. The Hawks were, again, up on the Magic, but they had no business holding a lead of this size. Of course, this dilapidated roster wasn’t going to hold such a substantial lead against such a vastly more talented team, so the Magic stormed back.
Behind JJ Reddick’s playmaking and a barrage of three-pointers from Ryan Anderson and the rest of the Orlando sharpshooters, the Magic were in position to win the game against the team they had no business losing to. With 5:30 to go, the Hawks held a 69-66 point lead over Orlando, and that uneasy feeling that accompanies every Atlanta sports fan’s heart resurfaced. The lead was blown and the game seemed lost. The Hawks were getting by on Vlad-Rad threes and Teague’s penetration, but that couldn’t hold up against Dwight Howard and the Magic.
Well it didn’t. Vlad-Rad did next to nothing after nailing a crucial three-pointer and Jeff Teague was non-existant down the stretch (at least in terms of putting the ball in the hoop). Smith made a few nice plays, grabbed some boards, made some free throws, but it was an all too familiar catalyst that helped the Hawks hang on: Willie Green.
Willie Green, for all his inconsistencies, is remarkably consistent. He can play defense on limited wing players and he can score in bunches with good shot selection. He doesn’t create his shot, but he finds the open seams and gets open for a shot. With the Hawks clinging to a one point lead with close to three minutes to go, Willie Green swished a three pointer. He followed that by a short jumper. With the snap of Willie’s fingers, the Hawks were up by six. As if that wasn’t enough, Willie put some extra icing on the cake with a high-arching floater over Dwight Howard with exactly one minute to go to kiss the Magic good night.
It’s always nice to see the Magic lose, especially to the Hawks. Its nicer when the Hawks use a lineup filled with one-year contracts and overpaid bench players to overcome one of the league’s most dominant front courts. It’s even nicer than that when a guy like Willie Green becomes the closer.
For all the good (and bad) Willie has done for this Hawks team, he’ll likely find himself back on the bench for a majority of the games with a healthy Joe Johnson. It shouldn’t matter. Willie did his thing, and not even Dwight Howard knew how to respond.
By the Numbers:
Josh Smith finished the game with 22 points and 12 rebounds in 42 minutes. He’s had a double-double in both games against the Magic this season.
Jeff Teague finished the game with 13 points in 28 minutes.
Jannero Pargo scored all 15 of his points in the first half.
Kirk Hinrich strung together another disappointing, but still helpful performance as he scored six points and added four rebounds and four assists.
Willie Green scored 14 points, seven of which came in the final four minutes.
For the full box score, click here.