For about three quarters this was one of the best playoff games I had watched in some time. What was there not to like? Hubie Brown was calling the game, both teams were playing at a high level. The Hawks were defending and boarding and forcing the Magic to take some very tough shots. On offense the ball was swinging, players were moving. The Hawks were going inside, outside, and surprisingly if not uncharacteristically getting to the free throw line. During those three quarters they limited the times that the ball stopped moving and fell in one players hand because they were on the attack. They were forcing the defense to rotate and then capitalizing off of that. They were showing us their potential and dare I say looked like the three seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time this post season.
How good was that first half? The Hawks took an eight point lead into halftime. This despite Dwight Howard having an eighteen point quarter and forcing the Hawks to go four deep at the Center position. Yes Jason Collins and Randolph Morris both played stretches during that first half. We are left to wonder what might have been had the officials not chosen to call two blocking fouls against Jason Collins that were clearly offensive charges by Dwight Howard that left ESPN announcer Brown astonished. That would have erased that eighteen point first quarter Howard had an pretty much would have saddled him for nearly the half. Alas the Hawks still weathered that storm and took an eight point lead into halftime.
The third quarter didn’t start off as well as Marvin Williams and Al Horford got confused on a rotation that led to a Dwight Howard three point play to start. The Magic ended up starting on a 7-0 run in the quarter. Jameer Nelson had a big quarter offensively and just when it looked like the Hawks were going to let it all slip away Jamal Crawford got hot. He made shot after shot coming down the stretch in the third on his way to 23 points and 4 assists on the night. Of course Nelson banked in a running three point bomb at the third quarter buzzer to give the Magic the lead going into the fourth 84-83.
Then the fourth quarter happened. It was like my DVR had suddenly came on and I was watching a replay of game one. The Hawks stopped moving the ball and became stagnant offensively. They stopped defending and pretty much eliminated every positive that they had accumulated going into the quarter. The play of Josh Smith was particularly troubling as Drew from Peachtree Hoops points out:
"It is fitting that the man was -24 for the game (worst on the team). Sure the final stats look ok, but he may have single handedly cost the game with fake injuries, pouting, lack of effort, and turnovers. Listen, I love Josh Smith, but he has no make up switch. There exists nothing in his person that inspires a vendetta like atmosphere on his own horrible actions. Josh is always right, and when he is wrong, it clearly does not matter. That is his mindset. I have never seen an above average starter play less like it was playoff basketball in my life than Josh did tonight. For all the Atlanta pride he speaks of and righteous gripes about talent under utilized, there was no excuse for Josh, and he has no reason to hold his head high when he dominates next year in January. This city will not get behind his poor effort, his fake fouls, his pouting. We pay money to watch you be great Josh. Intentionally being horrible is unacceptable. It is insulting. It makes people not show up to see that brilliance in Janurary. And that my friend is why you did not make an all-star game, and that is why you did not deserve to."
His ill fated three point attempt that he stepped out of bounds on is the last straw for me. I want a coach that will hold him responsible for his actions and get him out of the game. The Hawks trailed at one point in the fourth by eighteen points, this after being down one to start the quarter and up eight at halftime.
As a fan I walk away from this one with mixed emotions. Sure I am delighted that it wasn’t a 43 point beat down like the first game. The Hawks competed for three quarters and went toe to toe with the Magic. Of course all of those good feelings are washed away by one bad 12 minute stretch in the fourth. It really is foolish to expect this team to move the ball consistently from side to side seeing as how they haven’t done that the entire season. It is also foolish to expect a coach to yank established players out for poor play since that hasn’t been done all season either. You are not going to get changes of that magnitude this late.
Jamal Crawford played a lot of point guard in this one and thus took a lot of shots. I didn’t have a big problem with it at the time because he was making them. However, the shot selection once again by the back court comes at the expense of Al Horford who had a huge second quarter but didn’t get a lot of opportunities there after. Horford had 24 points and 10 rebounds on 9-13 shooting. This was a night that it would have been nice to see him get up atleast five more shots.
The most discouraging thing about this loss is the fact that the Hawks nearly have to play a perfect game on the road against the Magic to even have a chance to win. The Magic are so deep and have so many players capable of landing the haymaker punch. Tonight it was Vince Carter in the fourth that the Hawks ultimately had no answer for. It seems that a couple of bad possessions by the Hawks can turn into a ten point lead for the Magic.
So the Hawks come home down 0-2 in the series. They will almost undoubtedly play better at home. They usually always do. What adjustments are to be made? The Hawks have mixed up their coverages and tactics on the ball screen and the double team throughout the first two games. They need to continue to do that to keep the Magic guessing. The bench wasn’t used a whole lot down the stretch with Bibby playing only about 4 minutes in the second half of game two. I would expect him to be in there at crunch time in game three due to the Hawks offensive inefficiency late in game two. Probably if I was guessing at the expense of Marvin Williams. I look to see the Hawks throw countless big bodies at Howard once again in the first half to try and prevent foul trouble for Horford. The Hawks could also use whatever magic Bobcats coach Larry Brown used to actually get some calls to go against Dwight Howard. More than anything the Hawks will have to play four complete quarters of focused basketball to have a chance.