Magic/Hawks Game 3 Recap
Separated by way more than a seed.
by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
After a 114-71 blowout in Game 1, the Hawks kept it competitive for the first three quarters of Game 2 before a 15-28 fourth quarter led to a 14-point Magic victory. Back home at Philips Arena for Game 3, the Hawks were hoping to sustain solid play for 48 minutes.
When asked if the Hawks’ lapses in play were more physical or mental, sixth man Jamal Crawford said, “A little bit of both. I think if you use the crowd as energy and use them for substance [in Game 3], then I think we’ll be OK.”
And that’s exactly what the Magic planned to prevent. Asked the biggest key to a win, forward Rashard Lewis said, “Set the tone early. Hit them first before they hit us. Try to keep their crowd out of it. I know there will be a lot of energy in the building, but try to keep the crowd out of the game.”
The Magic would end up doing a lot more than just removing the crowd. Their early and perpetual dominance would turn the crowd at Philips Arena against its own team. While the Hawks should and do feel badly about their performance, the fans should regret theirs as well.
The Magic ended the first quarter up 28-18. They shot 52 percent from the floor, while limiting the Hawks to 32 percent. Orlando was also +5 on the boards, and would end up outrebounding Atlanta 51-34. Before the game, Magic backup center Marcin Gortat said the biggest key to achieving a 3-0 lead was rebounding. “Intensity, compete, and fight for the rebounds is the main thing, and hopefully everything else will come,” he said.
And everything else did come for the Magic. The Magic were up 19 at half with a +12 advantage on the boards. The Hawks were booed off the floor on the way to the locker room. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said hearing the boos actually concerned the Magic more than motivated them. “What we talked about at halftime is what we would be saying if we were in the other locker room,” he said.
But any Orlando concerns would prove for naught. The Hawks never bounced back and the Magic notched a 105-75 victory in a game they never trailed. While the Hawks’ performance is disappointing, it is not surprising. The Magic won six of the last seven regular season meetings by an average of 18.5 points.
After the game, Crawford said, “The way they’re built, honestly, they have probably the best center in the NBA and then you have shooters all around him… you kind of have to pick your poison. Either you’re gonna double team and leave the shooters or you’re gonna let Dwight Howard have his way one-on-one. So you try to give them different looks so they can’t get in rhythm but that’s easier said than done.”
Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said, “I guess you gotta pick your poison, I don’t know how you guard us. I’m glad to be on this team [so] I don’t have to come up with any defensive schemes to stop us.”
What is most dangerous is how well the Magic work together on the court. Matt Barnes laughed when I told him about an ESPN2 topic bar that asked who has better teamwork: Orlando Magic or acrobats? “That’s cool,” he said, “It’s important, you know to have unity and everybody like each other…that all kind of carries over to the court.”
Part of their cohesion on the court is due to their leadership off it. “[My teammates] come up to Philly every August and hang out, work out and do things so we can get that camaraderie,” said Nelson, the organizer. Nelson said it directly correlates to their on court performance since the more you get to know your teammates, the less they take it personally when you tell them to do something in the game.
But the Magic’s solid performance top to bottom doesn’t make the result any easier for the Hawks to swallow. Coach Mike Woodson said, “I figured we would come home and really play at a high level and make a series out of it and we were so flat coming out…it’s just unacceptable…I thought that they were going to come out and compete tonight and we didn’t.”
At times, it looked like the Hawks did not have faith in themselves to make a comeback. Their body language looked defeated at times, as their confidence seemed to decrease proportionately to their deficit.
Asked what it will take to have guys 1-12 return to the mindset that they can get back in the game and chip away at leads, Crawford said, “That’s been our thing honestly. I think that as a team you want to do so well, that when it doesn’t happen right away, you tend to just kind of deflate a little bit, but we have to be able to take a punch and come back. Even when you’re down 20, each basket’s worth two points so you can make that up in ten, 12 minutes if you just chip away at it…that’s what we have to have, is that fight to continue to do that because it’s never over ‘til it’s over.”
Van Gundy said what impressed him about Orlando is that the team didn’t come to Atlanta playing as if they had a cushion and they didn’t start the second half playing as if they had a lead. “Hopefully what you want is you just develop the habit that regardless of the scoreboard you keep playing hard, you keep defending, you keep doing the things you’re supposed to do. That’s the habit you want. So if you’re down 15, you don’t get down and if you’re up 15, you don’t relax,” he said.
“We didn’t want to give them any confidence and give them any opportunities to get back in the game,” said center Dwight Howard, who has made 22 of 27 field goals this series.
If it wasn’t the Hawks, it doesn’t look like the Magic would be struggling against a different opponent. Orlando has not lost a game since April 2 and is currently 7-0 this post-season. But a 7-0 start doesn’t make a team bulletproof. Cleveland was 8-0 last season in the first two rounds–seemingly on their way to a conference title–before running into who else but the Magic.
This post-season, Orlando is the team to beat–for everyone.