Initial Reaction: Hawks 88, Magic 85

Quick Thought: Gameplan still working....despite the Hawks' best efforts to thwart it.

Summary:

Well, much like Game 3, the Atlanta Hawks showed all the freaky ways they aren't a championship caliber team, but they prevail again due to a oh-come-on-now-it-can't-be-this-bad-can-it (2) for (23) three point shooting night for the Orlando Magic.

In fact, if the Hawks do prevail in this series (not nearly even being close to a given as anyone who knows this franchise can attest to) it won't prove the Hawks are ready to challenge for a title, just that Orlando never was either.

The Hawks started the game with its engines running high, getting out to another early lead by rebounding and making shots. But, as is their way, they frittered away transition baskets and launched their usual gaggle of ill-advised, early in the shot clock jump shots. Slowly their lead and control of the game melted away. 

But, as I feel, the Hawks are more comfortable when they have to play hard than when they can choose to, and down the stretch they defended, scrapped for second shots, and hit the key free throws late. On that last point, the Hawks were 5-10 at the line going into the fourth quarter, but hit 7-10 in the fourth---6 of 6 of those coming from the hands of Joe Johnson.

Joe singlehandedly took us on a roller coaster of a down-the-stretch-they-come, alternately hitting his clutch runner in the lane with "I don't know exactly what to do here" possessions. In the end, Joe's stat line reflected the inconsistency: 20 points and 9 rebounds versus 1 assist and 6 turnovers. 

Kirk Hinrich took another turn in playing excellent defense on Jameer Nelson. The Magic PG was as impotent as a guy who had 6 assists against no turnovers could be. Nelson, the key second piece on the team, was 3-12, including a rotten goose egg from three point territory, while needing a late layup (on Joe Johnson) to get to (6) lousy points. Defensively it wasn't much better, as the Hawks guards never seemed negatively influenced by any of the Magic guards. Consider:

Hinrich: 6-11, 14 points, 4 assists, 1 turnover

Johnson: 6-15, 20 points, 9 rebounds

Crawford: 10-18, 25 points, 6 assists, 1 turnover

Somebody this offseason (and if this keeps up it might just be the ATL) will give Jamal a long term deal and believe he can play point. Well, we know better, but what you do get is a defensively challenged pure shooting guard who, when he has it going like he has in this series, is a ridiculous shotmaker. When the Hawks offense has gone...well, like the Hawks offense can go--nowhere---it's nice to see Jamal shake, bake, and break the opposition with his sweet jump shot. It's not always efficient, but it can be quite a sight to see.

Sure the Hawks fizzled out after a strong start--again--but once again they did enough against a team they overmatch on the whole to gain victory. 3 games to 1, Atlanta lead series. It's nice to see in any context.

Also:

Hilton Armstrong made (2) steals late in the game while covering Dwight Howard. Then, he took an offensive foul on him as well. I don't even know what to add here.

I really believe that Brandon Bass has out-Horforded Al Horford on the offensive end in this series. Bass has shown a nice back to the basket game, a good face up mid range shot, and has thrown the ball down with authority. In short, basically the same things every Hawk fans wants from Al offensively. As of now, only the jumper is consistent. Match that blend of polish offensively with Al's tenacious defense and we will be seeing more of Horford at the All-Star game.

As much as Jamal is the 4-point play king, I can't think of another Hawk that so consistently can draw a charge as Jason Collins does. Josh Smith is good at it, but Collins is the master.

That the Hawks have to concurrently love and hate Josh Smith as they must have in this game is the reason the team has to see what they might get for him in the offseason (read: point guard/center). As Duff Man said in the comments from the last game: (paraphrasing) Expecting Josh Smith to suddenly want to become fundamentally sound is foolish---you just have to hope he has a good game. In this game, he gambled not once, but twice on the go-by-me-poke-it-from-behind steal attempt, both of which led to baskets for the Magic. He threw wild shots at the hoop, he missed his threes and free throws. That he added a fourth quarter offensive rebound and a couple of nice finishes along the way helped, but when you can't count on one of your "core" players, you need to shuffle that part of the deck.

The Key Play:

(Channeling NBA Playbook's Sebastian Pruiti) With 10.2 seconds left, the Magic's Gilbert Arenas had the ball at the top of the key. Dwight Howard came out to set a screen to free Hedo Turkoglu from Al, but Horford avoids it and it right up on Hedo. Then, with 7.8 seconds left and Hedo at one of his favorite spots on the floor, the right three point elbow, Horford knocks the ball out of Turk's hands, causing a we-don't-have-time-for-this scramble for the ball for the Magic.  Horford goes to the floor to try and get the now loose ball, but it rolls backwards about 10 feet and Turkoglu recovers the ball with 4.7 seconds left.

Hedo runs back to his spot to shoot with Horford back quick on his feet and running over to defend. With 2.6 seconds left, it's now or never for the Magic in Game 4. Turkoglu rises up from 25-26 feet with Horford staggering in front of him and launches, missing the basket to the right and sending the series back to Orlando with the Hawks up 3 games to 1.

Boss.

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