Thursday, April 28, 2011

Atlanta Hawks 84 Orlando Magic 81


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR%

ATL 84
1.000 44.3

The Atlanta Hawks took control of this game in the first quarter on the strength of the defense played by Jason Collins and Kirk Hinrich. Without the play of those two without the ball in their hands, Jamal Crawford and Marvin Williams don't get a chance to make the jump shots that clinched the game for the Hawks (to the extent that Orlando missing open jump shots didn't clinch the game for the Hawks). Hinrich didn't just stifle Jameer Nelson when given the chance to play. He, in the first quarter, dug down very effectively on Howard (as Collins used his bulk to hold him up) and salvaged points from more than one sluggard and potentially empty Atlanta possession.

Of course, both Hinrich and Collins picked up a second personal foul in the first half, and thus sat for 9:14 and 9:45 of the second quarter, respectively. Collins played just 5:32 of the second half. Hinrich, before leaving the game due to injury, played just 10:14 of the second half. You can see how important it was neither picked up a third foul in the first half.

Hinrich left the game, following a bucket he made to give him 11 points on just 7 shots (plus 3 steals), with just 2:56 left in the fourth quarter. By my count, Orlando scored just 34 or their 84 points in the 20:58 Hinrich played and just 28 of their 84 points in the 16:41 Collins played.

The Hawks never trailed in the game. They were tied twice: 2-2 and 12-12. And still Larry Drew resisted the opportunity to put the players most likely to keep Orlando from scoring in the game. He got away with it, not because the alternatives played such good offense--Marvin Williams scored 10 points on 6 shots, Jamal Crawford scored 19 on 16 shots and 4 free throw attempts, Joe Johnson scored 23 points on 25 shots, and Josh Smith scored 8 points on 14 shots--but because the Magic, Dwight Howard once again excepted, could not quite score efficiently enough when Hinrich and Collins were off the court to take advantage of their absence.

Dwight Howard scored 25 points on 14 field goal and 12 free throw attempts. He committed six turnovers. Half of those before Larry Drew removed Collins and Hinrich from the game at the three minute mark of the first quarter. The rest of the Magic scored 56 points on 53 field goal and 10 free throw attempts while committing 8 turnovers. Orlando had open shots. On the perimeter when guarded by Crawford or Johnson or Josh Smith. Coming off curls to shoot or going to the basket when guarded by Crawford or Johnson. They didn't make many of them.

To Larry Drew's credit, he came up with an effective game plan to defend the Magic over 10 matchups this season. That's a huge step forward from the 2010 playoffs even if he didn't always stick with said plan. It turns out that a fixation on Dwight Howard had real, tangible value for the 2010-11 Atlanta Hawks.

With a willingness to be wrong twice in quick succession, I don't see how that fixation aids the Hawks against the Chicago Bulls, especially if Kirk Hinrich's knee injury is nearly as bad as it looked. There is no bullish Bull for Jason Collins to defend and there is no Atlanta guard* who can reasonably be expected to stay in front of Derrick Rose.

*Hinrich mostly stayed in front of Rose in the blowout loss in Atlanta on March 22nd but did so by giving Rose open jumpers which Rose knocked down at an unsustainably high rate. Even Hinrich would be looking to slow, rather than stop, Rose.

Plus, the Hawks scored 98.8, 89.4, and 94.2 points per 100 possessions in three meetings against the league's finest defensive team. Without a specialist to drag Chicago's (admittedly average offense) down to their level, with Chicago's best player positioned to exploit Atlanta's greatest defensive weakness, and Al Horford having suffered an additional injury since he led the Hawks to their lone victory on the strength of their two lone competitive quarters against the Bulls it's difficult to envision Atlanta competing in their next playoff series.

Winning a game against the Bulls would be some sort of mark of progress. But a mark of progress for a team that has lost 15 straight second round playoff games, was outscored during the regular season, and was outscored during their first-round series victory.


DRP said...

Who really expected the Magic win this game on the road? The Hawks have avenged their playoff sweep at the hands of the Orlando Magic in 2010. They became the 9th team in the last 30 years win a series against the team who swept them in the playoffs the previous season

jrauch said...

Something tells me a repeat of last year's second round series is in order, just with a different opponent.