Blog Entry

Series Reset: Can Hawks grab the mouse?

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. 

Since: May 20, 2007
Posted on: April 24, 2011 4:38 pm

Series Reset: Can Hawks grab the mouse?

The Magic really need to wake up in this series with the Hawks.  They are a much better team than they have showed so far in the playoffs.  They simply can't continue relying on Dwight Howard to the degree that they have been.  The suspensions have only made matters substantially worse.  They have the talent to capably involve seven or eight players, if they choose to do so.  They sure need to.  But give credit to the Hawks.  They have both talent and depth and are showing it in this series.  They are fairly well balanced and play as a team.  This is particularly difficult for the Magic to deal with.  I'm afraid if the Magic don't pull out a win in the next game, the series is pretty much over.  I sure would not have predicted an early playoff exit for the Magic at the beginning of this season.  This is clearly a pivotal game for both teams.

Since: Dec 11, 2006
Posted on: April 24, 2011 3:26 pm

Series Reset: Can Hawks grab the mouse?

This Hawks Magic series is really turning out to be a good one.  The suapensions hurt both teams' capabilities significantly.  But it would seem to hurt the Magic more.  Jason Richardson is key in their playbook.  Replacing him will be quite a challenge for Orlando.  The Hawks can much more capably replace Zaza Pachulia, as his value to them is mostly defensive.  Dwight Howard might score a few more points, and he might not.  It's really just not that big of deal to Atlanta.  Losing Richardson is going to stretch the Magic bench to the breaking point.  As pointed out, he's a significant starter for the Magic, a key to their gameplan.  You can't replace his contributions to this team with an already thin bench.  Maybe for the first quarter or two, but they'll be worn out in the second half.  It was alredy looking iffy for Orlando before the suspensions.  It's even more questionable now.  I see Atlanta seizing this opportunity to extend their lead in this series.  Dwight Howard will have to have a huge game to save this one for the Magic.  I like the Hawks in the next game, and now to take this series with the Magic.

Since: Dec 3, 2007
Posted on: April 24, 2011 2:57 pm

Series Reset: Can Hawks grab the mouse?

Since: Apr 24, 2011
Posted on: April 24, 2011 1:19 pm

Series Reset: Can Hawks grab the mouse?

The Hawks missing ZaZa will hurt, but they can find his 6 fouls elsewhere.  With JRich out, the Magic's bench is extended just that much more, and it leaves smaller/slower guards on JoeJo... bad recipe for winning.  Hawks get Game 4 and then it's just a matter of which Game they clinch. 

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