While one game doesn't win a series, the Atlanta Hawks looked impressive in last night's 103-93 game one victory over the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center in Orlando. While the Hawks may have a difficult time repeating the success on both ends of the floor in this game, they no doubt made a statement. They looked so good on both ends of the floor that it had me thinking about whether or not they had looked better at any point in this season? Gone was the indecisiveness on offense, gone was the lackadaisical effort on defense, and most of all there was a sense of confidence that never wavered even with Dwight Howard doing his best Wilt Chamberlain impersonation in the first half.
First, if you haven't read Jason Walker's first person accounts then go do so right now.
Jason hits all of the major areas from this game but there are a couple of things that I wanted to touch on.
The motion offense was in full effect early and it worked just as it had been described in the early parts of this season and training camp. There was a stretch in Atlanta's 38 point second quarter where it seemed as if the Magic had no idea where the Hawks were going to attack next. First it was a J.J. floater, then an Al pick and pop. then a Jamal three off of a double team of Joe Johnson. The most important thing offensively was that Atlanta kept Orlando off balance. Even late in the game, they ran the motion until they found the match up they wanted into an isolation set. Over the course of the second and third quarters it was probably the best example of execution that I have seen from the Hawks this season.
Michael Cunningham brings the stats and they show that Atlanta was very successful from the outside making 13-27 shots from 16 to 23 feet. However, he also points out that they were 11-19 from 3 to 15 feet and 21 of 29 from the free throw line. I still contend that if this team goes inside then they make a higher percentage of their outside shots and it showed in last night's game.
Atlanta's let Howard get his and stop everyone else game plan was carried out near flawlessly except for a brief stretch in the third quarter when Jameer Nelson got going. Another by-product of the post trade Magic is that they don't have a great deal of players that can create a shot off the dribble. With the Hawks single covering Howard and doing an adequate job on the pick and roll, they were able to run Orlando shooters off of the three point line and force them to do something that they are not very comfortable with.
Dwight Howard clearly didn't have as much trouble with Etan Thomas and Josh Powell as he did with Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia but I thought each of those guys did a pretty good job of making Howard work. Even Powell who was clearly over matched tried to force Howard into taking a jump hook rather than letting him get to the rim for a dunk. That could have played a big part as Howard seemed to tire a little in the third quarter with missed free throws and some visible frustration after the Magic went away from him as the Hawks lead kept growing.
With the Hawks leading in the first half, Larry Drew tied Collins and Pachulia to the bench with the two foul rule which also probably played a big outcome given that Atlanta didn't have to go back to Thomas or Powell in the second half.
The Kirk Hinrich Factor
While all of the focus has been on stopping Dwight Howard, the biggest key for the Hawks is defending the pick and roll of the Magic. The Dwight single cover theory doesn't work if Orlando is getting easy shots for everyone else out of its pick and roll game. I thought Hinrich set the tone early by picking up Magic point guard Jameer Nelson full court and did a good job of chasing Nelson over screens while forcing him out of the paint. Nelson got loose in the third quarter but a great deal of that run occurred with Hinrich on the bench. Offensively Hinrich looked like a seasoned vet scoring 13 points while going 6-10 from the field.
The often maligned Joe Johnson gave the Hawks a vintage Johnson effort in this one with 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Johnson was efficient needing only 16 shots to score those 25 points thanks to a 7-8 showing from the free throw line. Orlando has a problem matching up with Johnson and if Johnson can keep punishing them by attacking the basket then the Hawks will be that much better for it.
Given the results of the last six games of the regular season, I was less than confident going into game one last night. However, the Hawks were successfully able to flip the switch and came up with one of their best efforts of the season. No doubt Orlando will make adjustments but I can't fathom that Dwight Howard can be any better in any of the remaining games than he was in game one. I would expect to see more of the Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard pick and roll in game two.
For the Hawks they just need to find a way to replicate this effort. They got off to a good start and never blinked with Dwight Howard scoring a ton of points in the second half. Save for a four minute stretch in the fourth quarter when Atlanta went into the prevent offense, they were fully tuned into the game plan at both ends of the floor. It is that kind of focus that is needed on a game to game basis for the Hawks to successfully win the series.