Maybe they still have the flu. Maybe the trade disrupted their chemistry (whatever chemistry they did have). Maybe they just didn’t play well. Or maybe…the Orlando Magic simply don’t have the Atlanta Hawks’ number anymore.
Whatever the case, the Hawks beat the Magic for a second time this season, this time in a more convincing fashion, erasing the memory of the early season blowout at the hands of their old nemeis. Perhaps now the expected 20+ point blowouts are gone, and a win like this does go a ways in easing the pain of a nasty loss to the New Jersey Nets. So how did it all go down?
You have to respect the League’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best shot blockers around. But, you can’t play like you’re scared of him on either side of the ball. When it comes to defending Howard, all that’s needed is a big body (height and weight helps here) with some smarts and a willingness to mix it up and not give him the position he wants every time. Enter Jason Collins, who came into the season much improved from a physical conditioning standpoint, and who has always been a savvy post defender. Collins can take the beating that Howard dishes out, and never stops coming at him, even forcing the officials to actually call 1 or 2 of the 50 offensive fouls Dwight commits every game (and 50 might honestly be an underestimation).
Enter also Josh Smith, who continually challenged Howard’s shots when he was able to peel away from his man in time. Perhaps no single play in the entire game showed the new found moxie of the Hawks more than Josh Smith’s one-handed block of Dwight Howard’s one-handed dunk attempt. At this point, you could hear it in the air: “We aren’t scared of you.” Howard finished with an impressive 19 points and 20 rebounds, a box score story that would impress most who hadn’t seen the game. But you’d have to watch the game to see the frustration on his face, and you’d have to read the box score closer to see how the Hawks really handled him: Playing him one-on-one with the occasional weak side help from Smith, Atlanta forced Howard into a 6-14 shooting performance that included 5 fouls and a game-high 6 turnovers.
Right Back at You
Equally impressive was a double-double combo from Al Horford and Josh Smith. Atlanta destroyed Orlando on the glass 51-38 as Horford and Smith ripped down 11 and 10 boards, respectively. But it was the bench that made the true difference, led by forward Marvin Williams (normally a starter) with 9, and backup center Zaza Pachulia adding 7 of his own. In fact, every Hawk to get in the game grabbed a rebound, with the exception of point guard Jeff Teague. Total team efforts like this make you wonder what happens on other nights (like against New Jersey!).
Adding to a team leading and game high 24 points from Al Horford were Joe Johnson with 17 (still working the rust off, but playing like a grown man), Mike Bibby with 15 (League’s hottest 3 point shooter, Ladies and Gents), and Marvin with a healthy 12 points. Smith added 12 of his own despite an awful shooting night (3-14), and guess what?
The Hawks still won by 10, which was closer than the game really was.
The thing is, the Hawks kept the Magic off of their rhythm by not letting their shooters get loose and comfortable, and by keeping Dwight Howard frustrated. Now if only they’ll keep it up and do this to other teams as well.
No time for a let-down, the Cavs are next. Can the Hawks retain what they’ve learned against Orlando, or will they lose focus again?