The Atlanta Hawks successfully defended home court in Game 3 capturing an 88-84 victory over the Orlando Magic and successfully taking a 2-1 advantage in the series. It was a full on playoff atmosphere at Philips Arena with a very enthusiastic crowd that witnessed a grinding and physical game between the two clubs. Before the game, neither coach talked of making many adjustments. At this point, it is pretty much what you see, is what you get for these two clubs. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was asked about Atlanta's intention to run more at home. His reply was a simple "we'll see". Van Gundy knows that in order to run, a team must capture the rebound first and it is difficult for these Hawks to rebound with the Magic.
Also before the game, Larry Drew talked about the need to do a better job on Dwight Howard. Atlanta still fully intended to single cover him but Drew thought they could do a better job of making him work harder for his shots on the interior. That is essentially the difference in this game as Howard rather than turning in a "Superman" effort turned in a rather normal "Clark Kent" performance. That isn't to suggest that Howard wasn't good, 21 points and 15 rebounds are plenty good but it is a far cry from the 39 points and 19 rebounds he averaged over Games 1 & 2.
Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins deserve credit for making Howard work. There was just two short stretches where neither player was on the floor and that was key because Atlanta didn't have to resort to the likes of Josh Powell or Hilton Armstrong guarding Howard. It was a very physical match up in the paint with all three players giving and taking a lot of punishment. Tempers flared late in the game after Pachulia was called for a foul and the ensuing skirmish led to both Pachulia and Magic guard Jason Richardson being ejected. As Zaza walked off the court to a thunderous Philips Arena standing ovation, I wrote in my notes "How will the Hawks respond"?
It wasn't necessarily pleasing to the eyes, but the Hawks didn't lose their fight with Pachulia in the locker room. A Jamal turnover led to a Jameer Nelson jumper which gave Orlando a one point lead at 82-81. The next possession coach Drew highlighted in his post game press conference as a key one where off the pick and roll, Joe Johnson didn't settle for a jump shot and instead put his head down and attacked the basket. The result was the fifth personal foul on Dwight Howard and after two Johnson free throws, an 83-82 lead for Atlanta.
Not to be outdone, Orlando answered back once again taking the lead this time on a Brandon Bass jumper that made it 84-83. Atlanta went back down the court and converted on a Jamal Crawford to Al Horford pick and pop play that once again put the Hawks back up one at 85-84. The next Magic possession drew the ire of Van Gundy post game as Hedo Turkoglu forced up a three-point attempt with around 10 seconds remaining on the shot clock. The shot let Atlanta off the hook as their match ups had gotten crossed up and Josh Smith was matched against Dwight Howard.
After securing the rebound, Atlanta advanced the ball into the front court where Jamal Crawford dribbled the shot clock down, crossed over, and pulled up a step or two behind the three-point line and calmly banked in a three pointer giving the Hawks an 88-84 lead with just 5.7 seconds remaining. In terms of shot selection was it a good shot? Not hardly but if these Hawks have proven anything this season it is that they don't always do things the good or easy way. The roar at Philips was deafening after Crawford's basket and reappeared once again after J.J. Redick missed a desperation three and time expired during the battle for the rebound.
The final stats show how even this game really was.
- Orlando shot 42.5% and Atlanta 42.0%.
- The Magic made eight three-point baskets while Atlanta made six.
- Both teams made 14 free throws, the Magic had two more attempts than Atlanta.
- The Magic held a slim advantage on the boards 41-38 with both teams getting 10 offensive.
- Both teams had 20 assists and 24 personal fouls
- The Magic turned it over nine times to the Hawks seven.
- Atlanta had four steals and four blocks while Orlando had four steals and five blocks