Quick Thought: ATL, Shawty!
The Hawks had a game plan to isolate Dwight Howard, play him straight with as many big men as they had active on this Game 1 night, and take their chances they could keep the rest of the Magic inefficient enough to make the difference.
Hawks 1, Magic 0
Oh sure, Dwight Howard was manly tonight, 16-23, 14-22, 46 points, 22 rebounds. And Jameer Nelson took advantage of 3 minutes of non Kirk Hinrich coverage to score 13 of his 27 points. But the rest of the Magic were putrid, shooting 8 for 34. The next highest scorer after Howard/Nelson? Hedo Turkoglu, who needed 38:09 and 9 shots to get his 6 points and Gilbert Arenas, who had 6 points on 2-5 shooting.
Meanwhile, the Hawks banded together and played for each other in a way only known in the earliest parts of this season. They stayed on point defensively, even as Jason Collins, Zaza Pachulia, Josh Powell, and Etan Thomas were getting bludgeoned inside by Howard.
Offensively, Joe Johnson worked for mostly good shots, shot 8 free throws (made 7), and dropped 8 of his first 12 shots before relenting late. He had 5 rebounds and 5 assists and generally looked like the Joe Johnson of younger.
His backcourt mates were also hot. Kirk Hinrich, when not playing terrific keeping-Jameer-away-from-the-basket defense, found his stroke, shooting 6-10 for 13 points, while grabbing 5 boards of his own. Jamal Crawford was 7-14, including 4 threes and 5 assists, scoring 23 off the bench in 30 minutes.
Besides Johnson, Al Horford was the other workhorse, both getting nearly 45 minutes of run in this playoff game. Al went at Ryan Anderson mercilessly, on both ends, scoring 7-14 for 16 points while keeping the once-dangerous Anderson to 0-2 shooting in his 24 minutes.
I go through that to say this: The Hawks played together, spread the good play around on both ends, and the result was that they were able to take advantage of their matchup advantage, outside of Howard, of course, to take the 1-0 lead in the series.
Howard scored 31 in the first half, but trailed by 7. After scoring about 1.4 points per minutes played in the first half, the Magic actually ran plays away from Dwight early in the third, rendering him scoreless for almost 5 1/2 minutes into the second half. By the time Howard scored that 32nd point, the Hawks lead had grown to 15. Whoops.
Each time the Magic tried to make a run in the fourth, the Hawks seemed to make a play to stem the rally. With 10 minutes left, the Magic had the ball and had gotten the lead down to 12 when Marvin Williams stepped in and stole the ball in the backcourt and slammed the finish. Later it would be a run-out off a Hinrich rebound that found Josh Smith dunking a Jamal pass. Finally, with the Magic trying one last time to rally, Josh poked away a Hedo entry pass to Dwight and seven seconds later, Jamal was cashing a three to seal the deal.
After the game:
There wasn't a lot of joviality, no celebratory mood, just an air of self-confidence. Zaza told me that the way they played together tonight, every minute of the game, was beautiful, and he made it clear that had to continue to win the series.
It's a tall task to ask those guys to match that effort again, against an opponent like Orlando, but the mood in the locker room was, look, we did it once, let's keep on doing it.
I'll transcribe the sound I got from that locker room for reading as we head toward Tuesday.
Feel good, Atlanta. Feel good, Hawks fans. Let's Go Hawks!