The Hawks vacillated between a tremendously tough team and a matchup nightmare for Orlando and a team that couldn't get out of its own way, especially through a bizarre closing stretch offensively.
Thought it all, the Hawks fought defensively, used their collective length to annoy Orlando, let the Magic ignore Dwight Howard by single teaming him once again, and did just enough to escape Amway with a win.
Does this game define what Josh Smith is on the court or what? Many long two-point shots, fantastic drives to the basket late, constant challenges on the shot block, zipping great passes upcourt, carelessly and weakly passing the ball in the backcourt and getting it stolen. 40 percent shooting. 18 defensive rebounds, only the third Hawk to have that many since 1986 (Kevin Willis, Dikembe Mutombo). Five assists. Four turnovers. 47 minutes of oh-no, oh-yes basketball.
Down the stretch, until the offense stopped being interested in doing anything before five seconds left on the shot clock, the ball was being force-fed to Josh and the results were positive. First, he split a pair of defenders near the hoop on a drop step move and scored. Then he went baseline on Ryan Anderson and slammed before Dwight Howard knew Smith at the hoop. Then, after Smith went hook shot and barely missed, Smith went back to the baseline on Anderson and got fouled, making one of two.
After that onslaught, the Magic double teamed Josh and his quick ball movement allowed for a wide open shot for either Joe Johnson or Jeff Teague, but neither took it, instead seeing Teague attempt a runner over Howard that missed. Still, Smith had created another good shot.
After those five straight possessions that the Hawks ran the offense through Smith in the post - a strategy that saw the Hawks score five points, Larry Drew called for a one-two pick and roll and then Iso-Joe, both of which missed the mark. The last possession of regulation saw a too-late beginning to the play and the ball finding Josh 22 feet from the basket with a couple of seconds left on the clock. Smith missed the jumper.
The Magic erased the eight point lead going through Smith had built in a matter of two minutes, culminating with a Howard put back slam. After the overtime period began, the Magic struck first with a Hedo Turkoglu three pointer. At this point, after the Hawks had blown the lead, played a lot of minutes and having no momentum offensively, it would be okay to admit that you gave up on the Hawks.
But the team kept fighting. Marvin Williams hit a three, then Teague hit a nifty runner through the lane, tying the game. Joe finally found his floater to give the Hawks a two point lead. Joe spun baseline on the next Hawks possession for a fadeaway over Jameer Nelson to go up four.
The Magic kept after it, getting a Ryan Anderson three and Jason Richardson free throw. The Hawks countered by splitting four free throws to hang on to a two point lead. The Magic went for the kill with Jason Richardson missing a three, but the Magic wrestled the rebound from Kirk Hinrich and when Nelson's long three point attempt rimmed off, the game was exhaustingly over. Finally. Hawks win.
Josh Smith. He's oblivious, he's productive and he truly does all he feels he can to win. 23 points. 19 rebounds (22 is his career high). Five assists. Three blocks. Game ball.
Jason Collins was out. Erick Dampier wore out quick. Having the size in the middle to single team Dwight Howard is essential to the Hawks strategy of keeping the Magic three point shooters quiet. Even without their ‘bulk', the Hawks got all they needed from Zaza Pachulia, the birthday boy, to keep that strategy in tact. Zaza ran the floor, other beating Howard down the court for an easier opportunity. He baited Howard into a couple of offensive fouls, one of which led to a technical foul. In a game and rivalry in which the games are now often close, every point counts - and it most certainly did tonight. Nine points and 10 rebounds were a tasty cherry on the sundae.
Finally, Marvin Williams deserves his gameball for his 13 point, six rebound night and for hitting three 3-point baskets, including the clutch one in overtime. But he really deserves the gameball for being an obvious nuisance to Ryan Anderson. Anderson had awful troubles with Marvin, doing his damage when Marvin was off the court. After a fourth quarter outburst with Marvin on the bench, Larry Drew took time to get Williams back on the job.
The bench was not elite tonight, as the Hawks gave ground quick with the subs in the game. Also, the first half configuration was weird, as Drew seemed to the little league/everybody plays method to substitutions by including Jannero Pargo, Dampier and Vladimir Radmanovic and playing all but Jerry Stackhouse in the game.
The gameplan is still effective. Despite the Hawks single teaming Howard, the All-Star center only scored 18 points as the Magic don't seem to care to change their approach no matter what the Hawks are doing.
The Magic shot well, they outrebounded Atlanta and came back strong in the fourth quarter. Still, the Hawks emerged victorious and Atlanta continues to look the role of favorite in any matchup between these two teams, as they have ever since Orlando sent known Hawk Hater Vince Carter away with Marcin Gortat and Mikael Pietrus.
It's a second consecutive good win against a solid opponent and a good sign that this team has not given way. Not the prettiest of wins or close outs, but they did it. Hawks win.