Initial Reaction: Hawks 85, Magic 82

Quick Thought: Josh Smith makes the critical play of the game by coaching Larry Drew's substitution patterns in the fourth quarter.

Summary:

Joe Johnson said before the game that this was a statement game. Let's run down the statements that were made:

The minutes played by each of the principals in this game say Joe might have been right.

The Atlanta Hawks have a much easier time with the 2010-2011 Orlando Magic than the 2009-2010 version. 

Jason Richardson is no Hawk Hater like Vince Carter is/was.

Jason Collins on Dwight Howard works. Al Horford on Howard doesn't.

The fourth quarter is, and always will be, the "shotmakers" quarter, no matter how many times Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson combine for 2-9 shooting.

Josh Smith doesn't mind that you don't like him shooting from the outside. He's pretty and you can't tell him different, especially when he's 10-18/3-4 on the night.

Smith is also much more effective when he gets to dunk a couple of times in a row. Too bad Joe Johnson won't pass it to him on the break no matter how many times Smith goes racing towards the hoop, three steps ahead of his man and nobody between him and the basket. You take the very good with the bad with Smith---so you simply have to take advantage of situations like that when they present themselves.

A team that sees fit to guarantee Joe gets the first play of every game and would alter rotations to make sure Crawford gets his groove back has no problem sticking their other All-Star in a lopsided defensive assignment while making sure he gets zero shots and very few touches period in the fourth quarter, despite being the best offensive channel on the team.

The first round of the playoffs will be fantastic.

Nobody outside of Orlando and Atlanta will want to watch.

The Stars:

A tip of the ol' Jason Terry Memorial cap to Josh Smith tonight....He made his shots, even the outside ones, was active inside at times defensively, and was very vocal at a critical juncture in the game by chiding Larry Drew into taking Horford off of Howard as the Magic were making a run, and putting Jason Collins back on him. His beauty lines were good as well 26/6/4/1/2 on the aforementioned 10-18 shooting night.

There was good reason Smith was howling for Jason Collins to get back out there---he was effective on Dwight Howard on the night. Howard was 2-11 before scoring twice in two minutes against Al Horford inside. Collins came back in and Howard didn't get the touch again. Collins even forced Jameer Nelson to his left on the Magic's attempt to tie after Joe Johnson made it 84-82.

Also:

In the 5 late fourth quarter minutes between Zaza Pachulia going out and Jason Collins coming back in, when Al Horford was having to defend the much larger Howard, the Magic big man attempted to score (5) times, going 2-4/0-2, and getting 3 of his 4 offensive rebounds for the night. This represented, by far, the most effective offensive stretch for Howard on the night and brought the Magic within (2). 

I am curious if Josh Smith, as it sounded on the telecast, really begged the coaching staff to make a change, that Bob Bender said, "I told him...it's not my call.", and finally the Hawks taking a time out after that sequence to get Collins back in the game. If so, I am pretty sure I can see the reason why Drew lost this team a while back. 

The good news is that this Magic team is truly not even close to being the nightmare that last season's iteration was for the Hawks. Whereas Orlando was the worst possible matchup in the entire playoffs last year, they are the best matchup the Hawks can have this year. 

Uber-rare IR Exit Question: If the Hawks upset the Magic in the first round and then get run out of the second round, does we see Larry Drew back for another season as Hawks' skipper?

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