Orlando–”Growth” has been the buzzword for the Hawks over the last two days.
Marvin: “We have an opportunity to show some growth. We’ve had a chance to close series [early] in the past and we haven’t done that.”
Al: “This is the first time we’ve been in this kind of position where we are up 3-1. We are a different team but they are coming out and giving us all they have. We have to make sure we come out ready and expect it and it will show some growth if we are able to come out on top.”
L.D.: “With this team I am always talking about this team growing. To me them positioning themselves to go into Orlando and finish this thing off, that’s a huge step in our growth process.”
I know what you are thinking. The Hawks have bigger goals than winning a first-round playoff series. That’s true but I’m also inclined to agree that a W tonight would mean be significant in a few ways.
Already the Hawks are the second team in franchise history to lead a seven-game series 3-1 (the ‘69-70 squad beat the Bulls in five). Win tonight and they would be the fifth time in 15 tries that an Atlanta Hawks team closed out a playoff series on the road (the ‘95-’96 squad was the last to do it, winning at Indiana). It also would be just the third time in 24 series the Atlanta Hawks won as the lower seed and the first time in a best-of-seven.
And let’s not forget that the Magic bludgeoned the Hawks last spring, prompting everyone to question their heart. Beating the Magic in five, even a different Magic team, would have to count for something.
That’s historical perspective. From a practical standpoint, the Hawks need the rest. Going seven games with Miami and Milwaukee the past two seasons didn’t help. That was especially true last season, when expectations for the Hawks were high and the Milwaukee series felt like a letdown.
“We were more worn out mentally than physically,” L.D. said. “We were already battered mentally and then we had had to gear up for what was going to be a physical pounding we knew that was going to happen during that series. It took a toll on us.”
So here’s a chance for the Hawks to put away the Magic and get a break between series. It won’t be easy.
“Coming back to this building, the energy is going to be high,” L.D. said. “The Magic have a lot of pride. They play hard. We have to expect we are not going to get a lot of calls. There’s a certain mentality you definitely have to have to close out a team. You play to be the desperate team as well. You don’t play like you have a 3-1 lead; you play like you’re behind 3-1. You play like this is the last game for you.”
More on those missed 3s
It seems one popular narrative in the series is that the Magic are missing bushels of wide open 3s. So I fired up the Synergy Sports Technology machine again to see if the video evidence supports that story.
In Game 3, the Magic got nine clean looks on 3-pointers (not counting heaves at the buzzer) and made four. One of those clean looks was a Redick miss when the Hawks pretty much let him shoot because Orlando was down four with time about to expire.
In Game 4, the Magic got eight clean looks on 3-pointers (not counting heaves at the buzzer) and made two. One of those clean looks was an Arenas miss after Jamal tripped and fell to the court (Jamal, by the way, aggressively defend 3s in that game after hardly working at it in the first three).
The Magic have attempted a total of 90 3-pointers in the series when subtracting the six heaves at the buzzer. By my count they’ve had 39 “clean” looks (43 percent of their legit attempts) and made 13, or 33 percent. I don’t know how many clean looks the Magic normally get or how many they usually make but it’s a pretty safe guess that they are accustomed to more open looks and making more of them.
There’s more to this story when you look at the video. The definition of a “clean” look is subjective but I can tell you mine was pretty liberal because these are NBA players in general and proven 3-point shooters in particular. I counted some looks as “clean” when Hawks defenders were quickly closing to challenge but didn’t appear to get a hand in the shooter’s face or into the expected path of the shot.
Those plays have happened a lot in this series. It’s been rare that a Magic shooter is standing alone outside of the 3-point line without the shot either being directly challenged or with the imminent threat of a closing defender. The Hawks have been very aggressive on their close-outs against Magic players other than Jameer (whom they don’t have to challenge as hard because he’s shorter) because none of them are a real threat to score off the dribble.
If Orlando’s 3-point shooters don’t look comfortable, could that be less about choking and more about being thrown off balance by swarms of long, athletic Hawks defenders buzzing around them? You can see on video that even when the Magic do get clean looks from 3 they tend to rush their shots. Could at least part of the reason for that be because they get only half a beat before a Hawks player is running at them to close off the space?
Maybe that’s why today Stan Van Gundy said: “We have to shoot the ball better, which I think in some ways means we have to have better patience and execution to create better shots.”
Again, I don’t know how many clean looks the Magic usually get in a game. I do know that a principle of their offense is to get those looks by way of Dwight post-ups leading to spot-up 3s. And I can tell you that after four games in this series the Magic still have gotten exactly one open 3-pointer in that manner. One.
That’s stymied the Magic’s effectiveness with spot-up Js, which was of one of their most effective play types in the regular season. Like Ryan Anderson said the other day, the Hawks are forcing the Magic to get their 3-point looks in different ways. It’s not going well for Orlando.
After looking at replays of all of Orlando’s 3-point attempts in this series, my take is that the “Magic are missing open shots” theory holds less water than the “aggressive Hawks defenders are disrupting Orlando’s shooters” theory.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat