Instant Reaction: Hawks 80, Magic 74

Quick Thought: Mike Bibby is more valuable than given credit for. 

Summary:

Mike Bibby played 36 minutes tonight against Orlando, and 21 of them were in the second half. These are long minutes for Bibby these days. That Jameer Nelson was missing and thus couldn't expose Bibby too much on the defensive end allowed that much run for the Bibster. What that allowed was Drew to have Bibby controlling tempo (and turnovers) on the court longer. All of this was very good, considering that the possessions that had Jamal Crawford running the offense were iso-heavy at best, chaotic and lost at worst.

The Hawks will also get credit for defending Orlando well, and indeed, instead of wasting time doubling down on Dwight Howard and therefore leaving the Magic shooters open to bury the Hawks that way, the Hawks put Jason Collins in to start, mixed in some Zaza Pachulia and, yes, even Etan Thomas to do what Collins called "disrupting" Howard's rhythm. And it worked to a good degree, as Howard was limited to 11 shots and was put on the line and converted only 4 of 8 attempts there. So by not doubling Howard, the Hawks still held him to 11 shot attempts, 14 points, and were able to stay at home against the Magic shooter, rendering Rashard Lewis impotent and making Vince Carter have to win the game by himself.

By having Collins in there, though, made the Hawks offense a bit weak, in that Howard would completely leave Collins, knowing he could easily catch up with him, even around the basket, and was able to help when the Hawks would try to work Al Horford and Josh Smith on Lewis and Carter. So Drew went to Josh Powell in the second half, playing 14 of his 19 minutes in that half. Powell's ability to hit the open jump shots meant that the Hawks could keep Howard honest.

But the key to the Hawks win was really that the Magic could not take advantage of the Hawks weakness at guarding the perimeter, save for the Carter drives to the hoop. Without Nelson there to draw the Hawks defense in and kick out or score himself, it prevented more open shots and easy feeds/and rebounds for Howard, as the Hawks weren't having to scramble and rotate near as much.

The big play late was Mike Bibby, coming off a screen on what looked to be a broken play, and nailing a three to give the Hawks the breathing room that Al Horford would step to the line and protect at the end of the game. 

A win against Orlando, without Joe Johnson, and against a team that is well above .500 and in their arena, that's a quality win, friends, and one that the team and we have been waiting for. Enjoy it.

Three Stars:

1. Mike Bibby

Can't say enough about how Bibby controlled tempo, maintained control of the possessions, and got the team into sets in a timely manner. It was obvious when Mike wasn't in there, even in the 3 minutes of the second half he sat. As soon as Mike came back in, the offense spun up again, getting (7) assists against a single turnover, and was evident in the whopping +19 on the night.

2. Al Horford

The man continues to deliver, this time even with (4) turnovers. Al rushed a bit, wasn't as patient as it seemed he wanted to really take advantage of Lewis being on him. Still, in the end, Al was knocking down big shots (7-14, 16 points), blocking shots (3), rebounding (10), and hitting those clutch free throws at the end to seal the deal. Boss.

3. Josh Powell

The Magic couldn't take advantage of the gifts Powell can provide defensively, which left Powell doing what he has been doing best, where he gave (8) points, (2) offensive rebounds, and and assist in a +9 effort in (19) minutes. 

Also:

I couldn't include Smith here because he took unscrupulous (7) shots from 17 feet and beyond. He made (3), but he was 6-10 inside of that mark. Why must he consistently shoot shots he is not as good at? Still, Smith did score 19, grab 13 rebounds, and had 4 blocks, including a couple on Dwight Howard hooks that kept the big man thinking the rest of the night. That Josh didn't get to the line a single time tells you he embraced his "small forward" role a bit too much and was weaker overall because of it.

AOL Fanhouse's Tim Povtak asked "Mo Evans hasn't been doing well this year, has he?" As I explained about his injuries early this season and how he has struggled to find a good playing groove since his return, I eventually couldn't escape what I had seen in Hoopdata's numbers and what I'd witnessed so far this year, that Mo Evans has been almost worst in the league for players getting more than 20 minutes a game. Silver lining for Mo tonight? His (11) minutes, in which he was a -9 and 0-2 from the field, may drop him below that 20 minutes threshold.

Marvin Williams re-injured his leg late in the first half, the same one injured when the Pistons' Greg Monroe fell on it a few weeks ago, but told me he'll be fine, it's getting better, but he took another knee to it tonight and that's what knocked him back tonight.

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