Initial Reaction: Atlanta Hawks 91, Orlando Magic 81

Quick Thought: Say, ain't it good not to see Vince Carter in Orlando anymore? 

Summary:

I am going to say it right now: The Hawks are a better team than the Magic. They are. This isn't to say that the Hawks have made great strides since last season's debacle in the playoffs, but rather to state that the Magic aren't the matchup nightmare that they've been for the ATL the last two years.

What's happened? Could it be as simple as the Hawks abandoning the double Dwight defense in favor of making sure the shooters don't beat the Hawks? Move the ball more and involve Al Horford and Josh Smith more? 

The Hawks didn't even play a really good game (15 turnovers, 41 percent shooting, awful nights from Smith and Joe Johnson, bad free throw shooting) and still mainly held off the Magic for the entire game. Sure, the Magic just made two huge deals and the team needs to gel, but they seemed unwilling or unable to attack Mike Bibby with Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson (or Gilbert Arenas for that matter) is no Hawk Hater on the level of Vince Carter, and the Hawks have now flipped the script on the matchup issue with the Magic, now using their height to give Orlando fits.

Dwight Howard is still the man, but he and Nelson are the last men standing in Orlando. These trades aren't going to make Hedo Turkoglu suddenly morph into the guy he was in 2008, Jason Richardson won't make Hawks fans wistful for Vince, and Gilbert is a shell of the player he was four years ago. I'm going to file this under "good news" for the Hawks.

The proof was right there on the floor, as the team held Orlando to 35 percent shooting and controlled the game througout. It wasn't as if the Magic were lost offensively and didn't know what to do, what they did just didn't work. 

The Hawks had control by using ball movement on offense and maintained it despite enduring a stretch in the third quarter when the Magic made what was ultimately their last run at the Hawks. It was 52-41 Hawks with (9) minutes left in the third quarter when the Hawks went on this massive lapse of basketball reason:

Turnover (Josh)

Turnover (Josh)

Missed 6 footer (Al)

Missed 25 footer (Joe)

Made 25 footer (Bibby)

Turnover (Joe)

Missed layup (Al)

Turnover (Joe)

Missed 26 footer (Josh)

Turnover (Jason Collins)

Missed 13 footer (Josh)

Missed 11 footer (Joe)

Five pretty bad minutes of basketball there for the Hawks (1-7, 5 turnovers) allowed the Magic to go 11-0 and tie the game. However, Bibby and Horford would make back to back buckets, the lead was regained, extended, and never relinquished. 

The Hawks are the more (brace yourself) together team right now and, even in a game where Joe was jacking shots and not coming close, Josh was way off the stink-o-meter offensively, and the team had a mere (6) fast break points, they proved that the Magic aren't the bosses of them anymore.

The Stars:

We'll start with Marvin Williams who came off the bench with Jason Collins starting against Dwight Howard. Marvin provided the only major contribution off the bench for the Hawks, going 12 and 9 on 4-8 shooting in 26 minutes. His steal of a Jameer Nelson pass with less than four minutes left  (and subsequent clear path foul) declared the game over.

Doesn't every big win feature an appearance in this space of Al Horford? Al has made the outside jumper his own in a way that Josh Smith must lust about. Al went 10-15, scoring 24 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and dishing 4 assists, all without turning the ball over. Al is slowly putting it all together as, when facing up against Malik Allen on the baseline, Al showed the ball, then went baseline past Allen, sort-of-slamming home the shot as he was being pushed by Allen, resulting in a three point play opportunity. Larry Drew may tell me Al is not an elite player, but he sure does produce like it. Boss.

Mike Bibby was terrific again from the outside, providing just the right launching point when the motion offense found him open, going 6-13 (3-6 from three) for 15 points. The Hawks even ran a double screen for Mike when he got particularly hot, and he promptly caught, popped, and buried the shot.

Also:

Kudos for Larry Drew for trying to get Joe Johnson on track the right way. Instead of setting up isolations at the top of the key to get Johnson going in the second half, Drew called for Joe to immediately go down and post up Jason Richardson. The Hawks went to Joe in the post against Richardson (4) times in the half's first three minutes, scoring (3) times and getting fouled once. The barrage forced Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to put Quentin Richardson in the game for Jason. 

That was the best of times for Joe, as he made (3) of his (7) shots in that stretch, but he wasn't as successful (4-14) apart from that. Joe continues to work his way back by making the Hawks endure the rough patches with the good. Johnson provided 5 rebounds and 4 assists, but also 5 turnovers and 4 personal fouls.

Want to know why Josh Smith is suddenly all off kilter with his shooting? He has fallen back into the bad habit of falling away from any shot from the outside. He is not a great shooter, but has much better success when he takes his time and exhibits the fundamentals of shooting. Falling away, flailing away at times, when trying to shoot the ball through a small hoop from 20 feet away is tough for anyone at this level and requires great shooting skill that Josh, despite whatever success he has had this season, simply doesn't have. The result Monday night was brutal---a 3-14 brickfest. Josh was able to collect 10 of the many Magic misfires and seemed to snap into place late in the game after a couple of blocked shots/contested made-you-misses on the defensive end. 

A conversation between Magic commentators Matt Goukas and David Steele best illustrates Josh and his meaning to the Hawks. Goukas went on a soap box about Smith and offered his many critiques as a possible reason Smith missed the AS game last season (shouldn't have missed it). Then, Steele said that Smith is very responsible for the success the Hawks have had in recent seasons. There you have it, Hawks fans, even the Magic know, can't live with him, can't live without him. And with a 20+ PER, why would we want to live without him at all?

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