Friday, May 07, 2010

Orlando Magic 112 Atlanta Hawks 98




Game 2
Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 85
45.3 40
37.2 14.1
ORL 84 1.333 62.5

Had the season series looked more like this game then all the talk prior to the series about how to defend Dwight Howard would have been perfectly understandable. It's not the greatest obstacle for the Hawks but it's undeniably a problem. Howard made 8 of 9 field goal attempts and 13 of 18 free throws. He drew five fouls on Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins in less than three-and-a-half minutes, creating the rare opportunity for Randolph Morris to play in the first quarter of a game that counts.

Surprisingly, that didn't derail the Hawks early. Mike Woodson's second try at getting Al Horford early rest with one foul to his name sort of worked, or, at least, didn't fail miserably. After Howard scored 18 first quarter points against four strings of Hawk centers, Orlando had just a five point lead. Horford returned to draw Howard's second foul on the first possession of the second quarter, sending Howard to the bench for a breather, which allowed Horford a strong start which culminated in 14 second quarter points and an eight-point Atlanta lead at the half.

The Hawks were even +10 during the 4:31 Morris played alongside Horford in the second quarter. Morris' line: 0-1, 1 OR, 3 PF. Despite that, it's still a flawed strategy. Zaza Pachulia played less than Morris and Collins combined, yet finished the game with just four personal fouls. Horford played 38:02 and finished with five fouls. He sat twice (for 5:05 total) in the second half as Woodson prevented him from fouling out. That effort succeeded. On the other hand, they were down 15 with 4:44 left when Horford returned to the court for good. The Hawks were outscored by 22 in the second half. 9 points of that margin came with Horford on the bench. The Hawks aren't as good as the Magic and they aren't going to overcome that fact by creating reasons to play the least able members of the roster.

For three quarters though, the Hawks were roughly as good as the Magic. It proved unsustainable, in part because a defensive focus on Howard made it difficult for Al Horford to help against Orlando's dribble penetration when he played Howard straight up or when the Magic used Howard in screen-and-roll situations. When Atlanta doubled Howard in the post, Orlando's spacing and ball movement made it difficult for the Hawks to rotate in time to close out* on shooters. The Hawks may have shown a bit of their ersatz-zone in the fourth quarter. Then again, Rashard Lewis' wide-open three with 5:08 left might have been the result of simple mis-communication. Josh Smith left Lewis, just right of the top of the key, to follow a cutter into the weak-side corner. Joe Johnson, at the left elbow, didn't know this and stayed at the strong-side help line. Unable to feed Howard easily on the left block, Vince Carter made a simple, direct pass to Lewis who had time to measure the shot before releasing as Johnson was clearly surprised not have a teammate behind him.

*That it seemed to fall to Josh Smith to close out, more often than not, only compounded the problem.

It was also unrealistic to expect the Hawks to continue to make over 80% of their three-point attempts and 100% of their free throws while getting to the line at an impressive (46.3 FT Rate) clip. Down 1 after three quarters, the Hawks were 6-7 from beyond the arc, 25-25 from the line, and had rebounded 40% of their misses. They were, I repeat, down 1. Defending Orlando became an issue co-equal to scoring against Orlando's defense.

For the still hopeful among us, the second quarter provided an indication of how the Hawks can suppress Orlando's offense. Howard sat for more than half the quarter, both for regular rest and due to foul trouble. Without the spoke round which their offense revolves, the Magic became more reliant on the jump shot, were more willing to take a quick and/or guarded jump shot, went cold, and the Hawks grabbed the vast majority of the misses (80 DR% in the second quarter). It's not coincidental that, at halftime, the Hawks were up 8 and had forced the Magic into almost as many long two-point jumpers as they'd taken themselves. The Hawks were 2 of 10 from 16 to 23 feet in the first half. The Magic were 2 of 8.

Nor is it coincidental that, at the conclusion of the 14-point loss, the Magic had attempted more than twice as many three-pointers as the Hawks (more than negating Atlanta's accurate shooting from beyond the arc) while the Hawks took 21 long two-point jumpers (making 6*) to just 13 long two-point jumpers from the Magic (making 5). Even as the Hawks did an unusually excellent job of getting to the line, they failed to do their typically excellent work at keeping their opponent off the line. 31 free throw attempts were a great accomplishment and making 30 free throws (6-6 from Josh Smith!) consolidated their value. But those 30 makes were necessary since Orlando got to the line 39 times which almost makes up for their sub-70% free throw shooting as a team.

*Two of those makes courtesy of Josh Smith, a success that will not, I suspect, keep Stan Van Gundy up at night.

So, the Hawks shot the three well (if not nearly often enough). They got to the line at almost twice their typical rate and made 96.8% of their foul shots. They dominated the offensive glass against a great defensive rebounding team. They got Dwight Howard in foul trouble in the first half. They forced Orlando into more difficult shots for approximately a full quarter. They lost by 14. They rallied to lose by 14. More than half of the 15 points they scored in the fourth quarter came in the final 3:29 after Orlando built their game-high 19-point lead.

From a certain perspective, this makes the second loss of the series more discouraging than the first. The Hawks saw themselves play better and Orlando play worse and the Hawks still didn't have a chance to win. There's no team with a greater disparity between their success at home and their success on the road than the Atlanta Hawks. The disparity in quality between the Hawks and the Orlando Magic may be greater.


Bronnt said...

It's a bit unfair to hold all 3 PFs against Jason Collins, actually. Two of those should easily have been charges by Dwight Howard, who instead got every conceivable call in the first half. Give me back just one of those defensive fouls that Collins committed and change it to Howard foul, and I'd say his play was very successful.

Bret LaGree said...

I don't disagree in the absolute, but hoping (or needing) Jason Collins to get calls against Dwight Howard is putting yourself behind the eight-ball.

Ignoring that Collins probably shouldn't be in the game in the first half unless Horford and Pachulia have seven fouls between them.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bret I totally agree.

That's one thing about an all-star and someone like Dwight Howard. I guess you can consider it a good basketball player as well. But good players get the calls. Not saying that Jason is not. But Howard will more than likely get most of the calls his way.

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