Game 1 of the first round series between Atlanta and Orlando has been labeled an upset by some, and a surprise for many. Game 2 was a little more like people have been expecting. Yet in so many ways, the Hawks have already begun to prove themselves against their Southeast Division nemesis. With the series tied at 1 game apiece and Orlando’s homecourt advantage virtually gone, is there a clear favorite anymore? Differing theories abound about who will win and why, as well as explanations about how the first two games went.
Star power and the Theory of Inevitability
Magic center Dwight Howard has put up some very impressive individual stats against the Hawks, but his performance is still not winning the hearts and minds of basketball pundits the way guys like Derrick Rose and Chris Paul are currently doing. All the same, his is the only name with star quality in this series, as nobody has much to say about anybody else. As such, the average sports writer or commentator will lean towards the Magic when it comes to picking a guy who can lift either team to a win in a close series or a tight game. And why not? Dwight has been consistently good, unlike anybody else on his team. For Atlanta’s part, anybody who played well in game 1 did not fare as well in game 2. Since this was the case for Atlanta for much of the season from game to game, there’s no vote of confidence in the basketball world for anybody wearing a Hawks jersey. Then again, that’s not quite true. The one guy who has been consistent in his performance besides Dwight Howard? Jamal Crawford.
The Magic won more regular season games. The Magic have experience better postseason success in recent years. The Magic know who they are from night to night, and how they win. The difference between winning and losing for Orlando is usually whether or not they can execute their well known gameplan. The Hawks still haven’t proven that they understand how they win games, and therefore tend not to play the same way every night. For this reason, most pundits say that inevitably, the Magic will win – because when all they chips are down, they know what plays to run, who to give the ball to, and when. The Hawks? Nobody seems to know any one formula. Can the Hawks rise above their own obstacles and take control of this series? Are they locked in to what they need to do?
Closing the Gap
Some people may suggest that the game 1 win for Atlanta was more about the Magic being bad than the Hawks being good. Game 2 results suggest otherwise in some ways. The difference here is that Orlando still wasn’t able to top 40% shooting in game 2 after struggling similarly from the floor in game 1. Has it been Atlanta defense, or are the Magic just struggling? Either way, it should be noted that despite losing, Atlanta wasn’t blown out and never was in any real danger of being blown out. That’s a far cry from last year, but “losing better” is not the goal here, and shouldn’t be acceptable by any stretch of the imagination. Atlanta is in this series and can actually win after having stolen one in Orlando. If the Hawks continue to keep the Magic shooters off balance and out of rhythm, they can win. Only one other thing stands in the way – the Atlanta offense. And there my friends, is the rub. Orlando can defend, but they aren’t the Boston Celtics (or the Chicago Bulls for that matter). In other words, their defense can be beaten, despite having the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the pivot for them. And that is where the Hawks might be the weakest. Between inconsistent performances and failures to execute whatever the gameplan might be, Atlanta showed in game 2 how a good defense effort (or a bad offensive effort on the part of the opposing team, whichever you believe it to be) can be wasted. It takes more than a near 30 point fourth quarter to make up for a 12 point third quarter, and head coach Larry Drew is going to have to figure out ways around that.
Again, Atlanta’s defense really didn’t fail them in game 2 (the second quarter being the lone exception), but their offense sputtered for the better part of two quarters, giving Orlando just enough breathing room to withstand the 4th quarter rally. How Larry Drew and the Hawks find a way past this is the key to the series, as the Hawks return home to Phillips Arena.
A goat of sorts all season long, guard Jamal Crawford is having the best performance by a Hawk in the playoffs through the first two games. Leading Atlanta in scoring at 24 ppg, Crawford is also shooting over 48% from the field and 58% from beyond the arc. Joe Johnson had a very nice game 1, but fell off a good bit in game 2. Still, the all-star shooting guard is hitting on 48% of his attempts, and is also shooting 50% from the field. If Joe and Jamal can keep their field goal percentages above 45% or so, the Hawks have a chance at being offensively successful. Drop below that, and disaster ensues. Why? Because the matchups still show the frontcourt advantage falling to Orlando. Josh Smith isn’t wowing anybody with his postseason stats, but his offense hasn’t been a failure. Smith has been right there with his season average in points scored, and tops the team in field goal percentage at nearly 54%. What lacks, however, is his rebounding and assists (to a lesser extent).
Starting Jason Collins against the Magic resulted in Marvin Williams coming off the bench and Al Horford getting some time at power forward. Unfortunately, this has come with mixed results at best. While being effective in game 1, Horford is nevertheless shooting just 44% from the field while averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds so far. The Hawks would fare better if Horford was scoring 15 or 16 points per game, but that’s not the point. The issue is efficiency, and the field goal percentage hurts. As for Marvin Williams, we are once again left with disappointment. After showing out well in the regular season while coming off the bench, Williams isn’t making much of an argument for more playing time. In 18 minutes per game, Marvin is averaging 5 ppg on a paltry 33% shooting from the field, along with 2 rebounds. I do believe we could have gotten that from Mario West. What gives? In this series, the Hawks can’t rely on their frontcourt to win the games. But they do need them to be consistent and efficient.
As mentioned before, Game 3 is in Atlanta. Can the Hawks press the advantage on their homecourt, or will Orlando finally settle into a comfortable shooting rhythm and begin to dominate?
Big Ray, Hawks Fan Nest Blog