Collins started all four meetings this season, and the Hawks held Orlando to an average of 82.5 points in those games. The key was not just that he limited Howard's points and periodically got him out of the game entirely with his penchant for drawing charging fouls, but that his single coverage took away Orlando's 3-point game. Orlando made only 19 of 84 3-point attempts in the four meetings; that's obviously a lower rate of accuracy than the Magic's norm, but perhaps more notably a lower frequency of attempts.
Normally, Collins' glaring deficiencies on offense make it too expensive to leave him on the court for his defense, but normally, the Hawks aren't playing the game's most dominant big man. On this night, Collins swung the game to the Hawks' advantage early by drawing two quick fouls on Howard, one on the offensive boards and the other with one of his patented flops in the low post. That sent Howard to the bench just four minutes into the game, and he struggled with fouls all night.
[T]his might come as shocking news to those who saw Orlando brutalize the Hawks in four lopsided games a year ago, but a lot has changed for both teams since then. Collins, who sat at the end of the bench a year ago, got himself in much better shape. Mike Bibby, torched by Jameer Nelson last spring, was exchanged for the defensively solid Kirk Hinrich. And Josh Smith (26 points) improved his shaky jumper juuuuuuust enough to provide a plausible answer at small forward, enabling the Hawks to use the "big" lineup with Collins at center and Horford and Smith at the forwards.
None of this means the Hawks will prevail when these two teams renew acquaintances in two weeks. (Although neither team has technically clinched its position in the standings, a Hawks-Magic matchup is virtually assured). Orlando might shoot 3s more accurately, might figure out how to get Howard easier touches against Collins and, barring that, might still shut down the Hawks' sputtering offense enough to prevail anyway.
But unlike a year ago, we're looking at a genuinely competitive series. For that, you can thank the guy with three points and five rebounds.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Daily Dime: Hollinger: Jason Collins, The Superman Stopper
John Hollinger on Jason Collins: