Posted on: April 25, 2011 12:14 am
Edited on: April 25, 2011 12:39 am
Everything is going the Hawks' way as they take a 3-1 series lead over the Magic. Can Orlando hit water if they fell out of a boat?
Posted by Matt Moore
It could have been legendary. It would have been fitting if, in the same weekend Brandon Roy put up a "flashback" performance in a win over the Mavericks, Gilbert Arenas finally, successfully had an impact on the game. The problem? The Hawks are still that much better. Or, at least they are right now. And they've got the series advantage to prove it, moving within one game of advancing to the second round with a win over the Magic Sunday night.
Instead of reveling in the late-game heroics of Agent Zero, who was 9-18 for 20 points, we're left with the same pattern we've seen all series: Jamal Crawford getting it done.
Crawford will never get the kind of love Arenas earned with his antics and personality, but he's as fit as anyone in the playoffs of being labeled the modern "Hibachi." He scored 25 points Sunday night, and has averaged 24 in the playoffs on 47 percent shooting. What's stunning is his perimeter work. Check out his shot chart in the playoffs courtesy of NBA StatsCube:
Crawford is 4-4 from the corner. That's 12 points in a series in which the Hawks hold a 2.7 point differential. That's a pretty big deal. Crawford has been downright incredible in this series, even if you think his bank shot to win Game 3 was "lucky." The MVP of this series is going to be Crawford, but down the stretch, it wasn't Jamal making plays in Game 4. It was the man with The Contract, the much-derided, often-forgotten All-Star, Joe Johnson.
Johnson scored six points in the final 1:34, first with a runner, and then with clinching free throws. Sure, the free throws were gimmes. But when you absolutely have to have those free throws, no one remembers the guy that makes them, only the guy that misses. Johnson calmly knocked them down, and finished with 20 points on 15 shots and 9 rebounds. He had six turnovers and a wealth of wasted ISO possessions, but really, that's the Hawks. That's who they are. So beating them up on a night where they hustled, and pushed, and worked their way to a win over the higher-seeded team with the best player in the series, seems disingenuous. It'll still be done, but the Hawks worked for this one.
And the Magic? They just couldn't hit. The word panic is used in the playoffs too much. But there's no other word for what happened to their offense. Those drive and kick threes? They kept shooting, over and over again, trying to force one to rattle home in order to kickstart a flood that would never come. There's no rain in Atlanta in the spring. Or Orlando, apparently. The skies have been dry in this series and the drought reached "Grapes of Wrath" proportions Sunday night as the Magic shot ...
Wait for it...
2-23 from the arc.
The Orlando Magic, one of the best perimeter shooting teams over the past four years, shot 9 percent from 3-point range. Nine. It doesn't get worse than that. It can't possibly, can it? Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Ryan Anderson combined to shoot 0-14. If that won't doom you, I don't know what will. The Hawks did their part, running off threes, contesting Dwight Howard inside, even without Zaza Pachulia, and getting contributions from Kirk Hinrich and Al Horford.
It wasn't pretty, and people are in love with trashing this series for its offense without recognizing the athletic defense being played on both sides. But, once again, the Hawks are a little sharper, a little stronger, a little smarter, and find a way. The series isn't over, with the Hawks up 3-1 headed back to Orlando. If the shooting percentages change, this series could get tied up in a hurry. But the Hawks have shown nothing but determination in this series so far, and everything seems to be going their way.
Posted on: April 24, 2011 5:10 pm
Posted by Royce Young
The Hawks and Magic have turned up the Heat a bit in their seven game series, most notably with the skirmish between Jason Richardson and Zaza Pachulia. Both are serving one-game suspensions for this headbutt/slapface fight.
Stan Van Gundy as he tends to do, added a little more fuel to the fire calling the Hawks a bunch of floppers, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“I like it when guys stand up and fight like men,” Van Gundy said Saturday. “I think that is what the game is all about. The one thing that frustrates me is all the flopping.”Van Gundy has long been on the flopping crusade mainly because that tactic is one of the top defensive moves in guarding Dwight Howard. Pachulia has used it already a number of times in the series and Van Gundy is tired of it.
I can't really argue with Van Gundy because I despise flopping. I think it cheapens the game. Trying to trick an official into calling a foul where one didn't exist just isn't basketball. It's acting. It's soccer. I don't like it.
But here's the thing: It's effective. Not only does it turn the ball over, but it also puts your team one closer to the bonus and an extra foul on the other team's player. If you pull it off, it's great for you. There's really no downside to it other than sometimes you open up a bit clearer path to the rim if you don't get the call.
I ask the league if there would ever be a consideration of adjusting flopping rules and the answer was that it's come up multiple times in Competition Committee meetings. Maybe if it's an obvious flop, the flopper would get the foul? A technical foul? Create a "flopping flagrant" that gives the team a free throw and the ball?
It's such a tough call to make anyway that nothing will likely ever be done. Which is why this won't be the last time Stan Van Gundy says something about it.
Posted on: April 24, 2011 3:29 am
Edited on: April 24, 2011 4:00 am
The Hawks have a 2-1 lead that feels dominant, despite needing a desperation 3-pointer to save Game 3. Without Jason Richardson or Zaza Pachulia, how does this series go forward?
Posted by Matt Moore
The Narrative: You want a classic must-win situation? Try the higher seed on the road, down 2-1, in a series where the other team has looked superior for 9 of 12 quarters. Try a team with major questions on both sides of the ball playing without their best wing player. Try a team trying to tie the series up when their biggest advantage -- their franchise center -- has had HUGE games, and they've still lost. Try a team reliant on their 3-point barrage desperately scrambling to find that shot. The Magic have no reason to panic ... as long as they win. If they lose, the good people in the Magic Kingdom will be slamming down that button so hard they'll break it.
The Hawks, considered an afterthought in these playoffs, have an opportunity to take a commanding lead in the series. It's a testament to their team effort on both sides of the ball, even as people continue to mock them (rightfully) for their reliance on ISO play. The Hawks have depth with Jamal Crawford. They have a shut-down point guard in Kirk Hinrich. There's a versatile All-Star who everyone just wants to mock for his contract in Joe Johnson. A versatile power forward who hasn't even tapped into his potential in Josh Smith. And then there's Al Horford ... arguably the second best center in the Eastern Conference. What's not to like? The Hawks have confidence and a chip on their shoulder. This game's as big for them as it is for Orlando.
The Hook: How do both teams react to the suspensions for Jason Richardson and Zaza Pachulia? Richardson is a starter, a bigger part of the offense. But Pachulia has been bigger in this series, doing the yeoman's work on Dwight Howard with some success, and bringing physicality and toughness to the Hawks. Pachulia will mix it up with anyone, and he backs down players who should be considered tougher than him. Without his six fouls, Dwight Howard could have another huge game. Quentin Richardson could step up and deliver. This could work out being a blessing in disguise for the Magic.
The Adjustment: Is Josh Smith going to figure it out? Hedo Turkoglu can't guard him. No one on the Magic can guard him. But he continues to settle for 3-pointers and mid-range jumpers. If Smith decides to commit to his game, which is physical, fast, and athletic, he can have a huge night that puts him on the NBA map. But, if he keeps settling for perimeter shots and spot-up jumpers, he'll face more of what happened at the end of Game 3, where coach Larry Drew benched him for the final possessions. No player in this series is failing to meet his potential as much as Josh Smith. When you consider the Hawks are up 2-0, that tells you a lot about how badly the Magic are playing.
The X-Factor: Quentin Richardson is a versatile veteran who can knock down big shots, defend, and has been hot lately, one of the few Magic players in that situation. With JRich out, QRich could step up and be a big difference maker. He fits in well with the Orlando system of catch-and-shoot, and has no hesitation in his jumper. Richardson is also a competent defender, and can help the Magic create turnovers. If he steps up, the Magic's perimeter attack could improve, and that shifts everything in this series. Conversely, if Richardson tries too hard and takes too much on himself, he can shoot them out of it. Marvin Williams better be prepared to play, as well as Josh Smith, when he's matched up on him.
The Sticking Point: The Hawks have committed more and more to playing Dwight Howard physically. Game 3 was the first game where it worked. Behind a surprisingly raucous crowd, the Hawks had things well in hand. Then, in the third quarter they opened the door again by seizing up. They let the Magic back in it and nearly lost, needing a desperation three from Jamal Crawford. A bank shot, at that.
The Hawks have soundly outplayed the Magic in this series, and yet, if it weren't for a desperation heave from Crawford, the Magic have the 2-1 lead. This series is close, it's physical, it's intense. It has some offensive hijinks on both sides, but it's also got periods of flawless execution. Game 3 was a battle, Game 4 could be a war.
Posted on: April 23, 2011 3:04 pm
Edited on: April 23, 2011 3:18 pm
Jason Richardson and Zaza Pachulia suspended for Game 4 Sunday in Hawks-Magic series.
Posted by Matt Moore
The NBA Saturday suspended both Jason Richardson and Zaza Pachulia for Game 4 of the Hawks-Magic playoff series Sunday in Atlanta. In the fourth quarter of Game 3, Pachulia became entangled with Dwight Howard, and swung an elbow to get him off. Richardson took umbrage, Pachulia then got into Richardson faced and headbutted him (slightly), drawing the suspension. Richardson then shoved Pachulia in the face, which is why he'll be missing Game 4's festivities. Good times all around. Here's video.
Pachulia's impact would seem to be the lesser, as he's a bench player with little offensive skill, and with the Hawks' depth at center. But as Kevin Pelton as Basketball Prospectus notes, Pachulia's impact overall may be greater.
The last two games, the Hawks have been more effective with Pachulia in the middle. During his 26 minutes of action on Friday, Atlanta was +7. Without Pachulia, Larry Drew will be forced to choose between putting Horford back at center and risking foul trouble or running out the sorry group of backup big men (Hilton Armstrong, Josh Powell and Etan Thomas) that Howard abused in Game One.via Basketball Prospectus | Playoff Prospectus: Winning Formula.
Richardson is the Magic's best perimeter scorer outside of Jameer Nelson, but along with the rest of the Magic, he's struggled in this series. He's shooting 27 percent from 3-point range in this series, and that's been particularly harmful to the Magic's offense. Without him, Quentin Richardson will likely get more time, and he's played well in the first three games for Orlando. This could be a blessing in disguise for the Magic if it lights a fire under the Mgic's perimeter offense.
Pachulia is the person you can most easily point to to disprove the "soft Euro" theory. Three years ago, he got into it with Kevin Garnett, and he's been known to start conflict with anyone who wants it. He's representative of the Hawks in this series. Willing to battle with anyone from the Magic who are looking for a fight.
Tags: 2011 EC First Round, 2011 Hawks-Magic, 2011 Magic-Hawks, 2011 NBA Playoffs, Al Horford, Brandon Bass, Dwight Howard, Hawks-Magic, Jameer Nelson, Jason Collins, Jason Richardson, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Kirk Hinrich, Magic-Hawks, Marvin Williams, NBA Playoffs, Ryan Anderson. J.J. Redick, suspensions
Posted on: April 23, 2011 12:32 am
Edited on: April 23, 2011 12:49 am
The Hawks and Magic walked into a bar fight. One team walked out up 2-1.
Posted by Matt Moore
By hook or by crook, the Hawks keep figuring out a way. A way to beat the Magic's perimeter offense, a way to not let their disjointed, overly simplistic one-on-one offense beat itself, a way to maintain the advantage over a team that looked ready to contend for a title as recently as this time last year. Hawks 88 Magic 84. Hawks now have a 2-1 lead in the series.
And, again, it was a tight, highly contested game featuring some good basketball, some bad basketball, and some theatrics. Oh, and a fight. Those are good, too. While the basketball world was focused on the trampling of the Knicks at the Garden, the Hawks and Magic played a pretty fun game, excepting a third quarter which saw the Hawks post 15 points. It was an exceptionally tight game. The Hawks hit three more field goals, but shot .5 percent points worse than the Magic. Neither team had a clear advantage at the free throw line, 21-19 Magic. Assists, turnovers, rebounds, steals, personal fouls ... all within 3 of one another.
In the end, the Magic got back into the game, after being down nine at the half, by their tested formula. They played exceptional defense, conning the Hawks into Atlanta's favorite mistake: long contested jumper after long contested jumper. Meanwhile, the Magic raced to the other end of the floor, set the post with Dwight Howard, then kicked it out to create 3-point attempts. They fell for a while. Then they didn't.
The Hawks should have won this game by more. Al Horford began the game as a man on fire, and set the tone. Horford outright bulldozed his way inside, taking Ryan Anderson in the post and working him over like it was a boxing match. Horford finished with 13 points on 6-14 shooting and seven rebounds, but on top of his aggressive play -- which lit a fire under the Hawks early -- he also nailed a decent mid-range jumper in the closing minutes to answer a similar Brandon Bass shot.
Zaza Pachulia's hard foul on Dwight Howard, Howard's subsequent retaliation, Richardson's confrontation, Pachulia's headbutt and Richardson's slap to the face (seriously, all this happened in about ten seconds, check it out) will have big implications on this series going forward. But the fight, in itself, represented what's gone on through three games. The Hawks have been slaughtered by Howard on the glass, but have been more aggressive, more physical and more determined. That tough, gritty approach that everyone promotes in playoff play? The Hawks have it. The Magic are lacking, and are looking to kickstart their offense with 3-pointers. Don't get it wrong, the Hawks relied much more on contested mid-range shots than the Magic, but the Hawks also outscored the Magic in the paint.
The Magic have the best center in the game. And the Hawks outscored them 36-34 in the paint. Not exactly a huge gap, but, with Howard, the Magic should always win points in the paint in this series. The Hawks did make a concerted effort to attack, though. And, sometimes, that was enough to get it done. Joe Johnson wasn't efficient, but he was effective. Jamal Crawford wasn't keyed in, but he got the job done. The Hawks, as they have in all three games this series, looked a step ahead. In Game 2, the shots didn't fall. In Game 3, they fell enough to give themselves a chance to win.
A solid bank shot (don't call it luck) did the rest.
Posted on: April 22, 2011 11:13 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 11:16 pm
Posted by Royce Young
Jamal Crawford seems to have knack for exactly these type of shots. He said it immediately after the game in a sideline interview that he likes the pull-up 3 in crunch time. And that's what he was looking for all the way.
Except I'm sure he didn't picture it going in the way it did.
Crawford banked home a 3 with 5.7 seconds left to put the Hawks up 88-84 and seal a 2-1 series lead over the Magic. It was a game the Hawks led mostly throughout, even by as many as 14, only to blow the lead with really horrific offensive execution in the second half. But the Hawks found just enough offense from just enough people. Example: Crawford banking in a freaking 3 to ice the game.
There's a lot of fight in these Hawks (and I don't mean that literally, i.e. Zaza Pachulia). They were entirely run over by the Magic last postseason but have taken complete control of the series. Atlanta found just enough points late and in the playoffs, you take a banked 3 all day every day. It still counts the same regardless.
The series isn't over, but Crawford's 3 definitely tilts things Atlanta's way. Up 2-1 with another game at home means the Hawks are guaranteed a Game 6 in their building. Time is running out and the pressure is building for the Magic. Dwight Howard won't be excited about a first-round exit. Backs to the wall now, Orlando has to respond.
Tags: 2011 EC First Round, 2011 Hawks-Magic, 2011 Magic-Hawks, 2011 NBA Playoffs, Al Horford, Brandon Bass, Dwight Howard, Hawks-Magic, Jameer Nelson, Jason Collins, Jason Richardson, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Kirk Hinrich, Magic-Hawks, Marvin Williams, NBA Playoffs, Ryan Anderson. J.J. Redick, Video
Posted on: April 22, 2011 10:38 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 10:48 pm
Posted by Royce Young
We were building to this point. At some point, the Magic and Hawks were going to rumble.
Finally it happened in Game 3 with 2:22 left in the fourth quarter. Zaza Pachulia fouled Dwight Howard hard, Howard flung his arms, Jason Richardson came to defend Howard after Pachulia took exception to Howard and off we went. Pachulia was right in Richardson's face apparently yelling "What? What?" and with the motion of his head seemed to headbutt Richardson. Immediately, Richardson threw and open-handed push to the face at Pachulia.
After the officials reviewed the play, both Pachulia and Richardson were ejected with "fighting" fouls. Howard was assessed a technical because of hanging his elbow out.
Obviously the NBA will review this incident and it's likely both Pachulia and Richardson will be hit with suspensions. Will the NBA punish Howard for the elbow? Remember that he was suspended a game in the postseason in 2009 for one, which was widely criticized.
Pachulia defended Howard extremely well in the post all game long, holding the MVP candidate to just 21 points. Howard averaged 39.5 the first two games. Pachulia is notorious for getting under player's skin and he certainly has with Howard. The follow-through from Howard was pretty clearly intentional and it set Pachulia off. Howard takes a beating every night and at times, does a poor job of containing his frustration. It set off this chain of events which will likely put Richardson and Pachulia on the bench for a big Game 4.
Atlanta went on to win 88-84 after a huge Jamal Crawford 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Posted on: April 22, 2011 2:27 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 2:52 pm
The series the public forgot shifts back to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4 tied. We reset the series and wonder about J-Smoove, Horford, J.J. and more.
Posted by Matt Moore
The Narrative: Is there something to be said for the Hawks losing Game 2 in a close one, despite playing terribly? Is there something to be said for Orlando winning despite not shooting well? Is it a good thing or a bad thing that Dwight Howard dominated in the first two games for the Magic but they were solidly beaten in one game and squeaked it out? Can Atlanta hope for their mediocre shooting to improve, or is this who they are, and Game 1 was a deviation?
We don't really know the answers to all that at this point. Magic fans are banking on Atlanta shooting like they did in Game 2 while Orlando's offense opens up like a flower in bloom. Hawks fans are banking on the shooting returning to an even decent level while their defense continues to hold everyone not named Howard in check. It's ridiculously simple, actually. The Hawks' matchup advantages counter Orlando's star power. So it comes down to shooting. The Hawks can beat the Magic shooting a percentage over what Atlanta usually holds teams to, but can't if they continue to sit in the freezer. The Magic can regain the series advantage by shooting somewhat close to what they usually do as long as Orlando can hit water from a boat.
It really does just come down to making shots.
The Hook: Josh Smith can do what he wants. He really can. Brandon Bass has no shot at guarding him. Ryan Anderson has no shot at guarding him. Hedo Turkoglu did a good job for a long stretch in the second half of Game 2, but in reality, again, Smith has the advantage. The only thing that can stop Josh Smith, really, is himself. In Game 1 he took two 3-pointers. In Game 2, he took four. This isn't a big differential, except that every shot Smith takes from the perimeter is one more he's not taking inside or at the rim. Smith has taken considerable leaps to tone down his penchant for perimeter shooting, but when he drifts back into that, the Hawks lose a valuable weapon.
Here's a look at Smith's possessions in Game 1 vs. Game 2, via Synergy Sports.
Now, Smith's probably the only Hawk you can look at and say, "Man, that guy should really go ISO one one one. The Hawks are an ISO factory. But Smith's one of the only ones with a clear advantage man-up, physically. Most concerning though, is that big glaring "6" in the Spot-Up row for Game 2. If Josh Smith is shooting spot-up jumpers, there's something wrong with the world. Or the Hawks. More specifically, the Hawks. Another few possessions for the Hawks where Smith is aggressive, and they might be coming home with a 2-0 lead. Smith has to stay aggressive or the Hawks are going back into the offensive swamp again.
The Adjustment: Head coach Larry Drew got blasted by just about everyone for benching Al Horford for almost the entire first half after he picked up early foul trouble. Don't get me wrong, that was a terrible decision, but Horford just didn't have it in that game. He didn't shoot well, and struggled even to overcome Brandon Bass in the post. This isn't to say Drew was correct, he wasn't. But Drew has bigger issues than just Horford's minutes. He needs to get a strategy for defending Dwight Howard and stick to it. Jason Collins finished with three fouls. Zaza Pachulia finished with four. Hilton Armstrong with two. Al Horford with two. The idea of making Dwight Howard beat you by his lonesome isn't a bad strategy. It's actually a pretty good one. But it's got to be done using the line. If two of those four players don't foul out by the end of the game, Drew has coached badly. Howard's a terrible free throw shooter. If they're not going to double on him to contain him, they have to at least make him work at the weakest part of his game to beat them.
The X-Factor: J.J. Redick hasn't shot well as he recovers from injury. That's going to change at some point. If not him, then Chris Duhon. If not either of those players, then Gilbert Arenas, should he see the floor. One of the Magic's guards has to get warm at some point, and they need to have their trigger fingers ready. The Hawks have been running off the 3-point shot well in this series and the Magic seem to have no interest in making the extra pass. If they get the ball, the guards need to shoot.
The biggest reason the Magic need this is to counter Jamal Crawford. The Magic can't keep getting blasted by Crawford and Johnson with no significant contributions outside of Jameer Nelson and possible Jason Richardson. There's got to be some effort to balance the scale, which puts more emphasis on Howard, which is what the Magic want.
The Sticking Point: It's a counter-intuitive mismatch of offenses. The Hawks' ISO heavy weaponry against the Magic's one-pass-and-done kick-outs. The Hawks have to keep running off the three, while the Magic have to try and stick the Hawks' weapons on the perimeter. Everyone's laughing at the lack of ball movement by Atlanta, but the thing is, they're able to get those shots off against opponents who don't have a good capability of defending them. The Magic have been frozen from the arc, comparatively, but you have to believe those shots will eventually fall. How that tug of war ends up will decide the next two games in Atlanta.