Sunday, January 31, 2010

ATL-MCO Game Review: The Curse of the Red Jerseys

Call it crazy--but the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night in Orlando dropped their fifth game in seven with their alternate red ATL jerseys in play.

Oh sure, you can tell us that if the Hawks had the regular away jerseys on that Dwight Howard would still have scored 31 points and 19 rebounds and the Magic would still have pulled away from a Hawks team that was scratching and clawing to stay in the game in the first half anyway---but we'd still think otherwise. Definitely the jerseys

The Hawks came in after their season sweep of the Celtics and added another piece to a potential sweep involving Orlando--just not in the best way for the good guys. Unlike other games against Orlando, the Hawks actually got out of the gate good early; challenging the Magic inside offensively and making the Magic miss inside defensively before fading as the second half wore on behind an avalanche of offensive stagnation.

The Hawks led 16-6 and all Hawks had scratched in the first half of the first quarter of the game, including Mike Bibby, who got on track with a couple of buckets in that run. But after the Magic took a timeout at that score and 5 1/2 minutes left, the Magic immediately did what they hadn't done much previous to that timeout: Get Dwight Howard the ball. After that timeout, the Magic finished out the quarter with a 15-2 run.

After that run, the Hawks lost whatever crispness they may have entered the game with. Ball movement became nil, allowing the Magic to build a wall around the rim, with Howard as foreman, and the Hawks faced tough, contested shots from any range. The Hawks did not make the Magic work for anything defensively, rather, they dribbled and tried to shoot over the wall instead of making the passes to make the Magic move defensively.

We heard the lament of the lack of free throws but, honestly, the Hawks did nothing to get the Magic to move out of defensive position, which would put them in a more likely position to foul. Instead, they were able to set their feet in plenty of time before the shot, and made the Hawks shoot over or around them. For this effort, the Hawks shot a miserable 15-35 (42 percent) within 10 feet of the basket.

"We wanted to come out and try to be aggressive," said Joe Johnson. "We didn't shoot really any free throws tonight. We never put any pressure on their defense and pretty much let them do anything they wanted to do. That's what I'm talking about being mentally tough--and we didn't have that tonight."

On the other end, the Magic did what the Hawks couldn't and moved the ball enough to get better/easier looks around the hoop for a 24-39 night (62 percent) within 10 feet.

Bad as it seemed throughout the first half, the Hawks were working hard enough to stay within a couple of possessions of thier hosts. In fact, the Hawks had worked the lead down to (2) on a Jamal Crawford leaner with less than (5) seconds left. After the Magic inbounded, Josh Smith set out to foul Jameer Nelson, given that the Hawks had a foul to give. Smith fouled Nelson, who instinctively went up for a shot, hoping for a shooting foul call--which he then received.

"I fouled him early, so I was thinking they were going to call before then," explained Smith. "Then I hit him again and that's when they called it. It was definitely a 3-pt play (when they called it), but I thought they were going to blow the whistle before he did it."

As the teams headed into the locker room, Woodson had some parting comments for the officials, comments which earned the Magic an additional free throw when play resumed in the second half.

Despite all of that--it felt like if the Hawks could just put (6) good minutes of basketball together at any point in the second half, that they could pull it out. Alas, it was the Magic that put that kind of run together, mostly behind their continued excellence on the defensive end, and the Hawks inability to do anything to pry them out of it.

"They do a good job packing it in," said Crawford of the Magic's defensive game plan and execution, especially in that third quarter. "Even when you get in there and penetrate, it's tough with all those bodies in there."

"I thought we were fatigued," said Coach Woodson regarding the third quarter offensive freeze. "I'm not blaming them on back-to-back games because everybody has them. If you watched the game from last night, I thought we played good defense, but tonight it was switched and they (Orlando) was the better defensive team tonight. I thought that was the difference in the game tonight."

"I thought we got a little worn down," agreed Al Horford, who had a mere (4) points and (4) rebounds against Howard. "The game before (against BOS Friday night) was really emotional. That's really no excuse--everyone goes through those kind of games. We have to get better at these kind of back-to-backs if we want to be a great team."

Cleanup on Aisle Former Division Leaders

The loss makes it more difficult for Woodson to lead the Eastern Conference All-Stars. Now, the Magic have to lose to Detroit and the C's lose to LA (via @hawksPRman on twitter). Woody didn't give any indication if this is important him, but it does for those who us who wish to speculate if Woody would sit any All-Star worrying about foul trouble.

J-Smoove blocked (4) shots in Orlando to bring him to (999) for his career. He will likely become the youngest to the mark while in Oklahoma City on the Hawks next game February 2nd.

THHB tried to remember when the Hawks have ever had a versatile player as tall as Ryan Anderson is. Peachtree Hoops nominates him (unofficially) as a Hawk Hater, which might be a position that's open on the Magic since the current holder of that distinction, Vince Carter, played only (22) minutes and struggled to get his (6) points. He was roundly booed early in the game and graduated to being tolerated as the Magic pulled away later. Welcome to Orlando, Vince! Anderson, meanwhile, unleashed his usual outside-inside game, scoring (16) points in (17) minutes including (2) three pointers and 5-6 at the rim.

The love that Magic fans have for JJ Redick is a little unnerving and rivals the man-love the fan base used to feel for "gritty, gutty" Scott Skiles. It's unknown, however, if the love will escalate to the levels of Scotty-love at its height. It was then that Skiles was voted Team MVP in an infamous Orlando Sentinel poll over Shaquille O'Neal. Redick did end up with (8) points and (7) assists, though by the reaction to his performance, you may have thought he messed around and had a triple-double.

Redick didn't, but Joe Johnson was closing in one of them there fancy statistical oddities. Despite joining the team in struggling in the lane (4-9 inside of ten feet), Johnson shot 8-16 and had (6) rebounds and (7) assists to go with his (19) points (tied for team high w/Jamal).

We'll have another piece coming on Monday which will be a few short tidbits from our pre-game conversations with Coach Woodson regarding game pace, Al Horford regarding playing taller players, and Jamal Crawford on appreciation. It's a guaranteed 60-90 seconds of information you'll not want to miss.

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