Five Things We Learned in Game One of the Orlando-Atlanta Series
What a barn burner! The Magic eked this one out by 43 points as the Hawks, despite a energetic and determined effort, simply didn't have enough firepower to pull this one out.
OK...maybe it was a TAD more one sided than that.
The Magic are emerging as the playoff's most focused and prepared team, and proved it again last night by neutering the helpless Hawks in front of 17,461 people in Orlando.
The Hawks players, meanwhile, decided to fire Mike Woodson by shooting nothing but contested two-point jump shots and allowing only two Hawks to touch the ball per possession.
In Game One we learned that the only way Atlanta is getting momentum going in this series is if Howard's deltoids explode and Atlanta shoots the lights out for an entire game.
Read on to find out five more things we learned about this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
1. Stan Van Gundy's Mustache Could Outcoach Mike Woodson
A 43-point loss is never ALL the losing coach's fault, but it showed how uninspired this Hawks team is.
Offensively, there isn’t much Coach Woodson can do to erase 90 games’ worth of bad habits. In the first quarter Atlanta came out and moved the ball well from side to side, set hard screens and loosened up the Magic defense for open looks.
From the second quarter on, it was basically AAU ball with one guy attacking and four guys standing around. This allowed the Magic defenders to stare at the ball and see what was coming. That's just not going to cut it against a team as well coached as the Magic. They rotate exquisitely and every defender knows his responsibility.
See, Woodson can get his guys to play well for a stretch. But when all season long a coach doesn’t enforce a structure that prohibits ball-hogging and standing around off the ball, don’t expect them to suddenly alter their instincts. The Hawks can’t out talent the Magic, and that seems to be about the only way they can beat teams with Woodson at the helm.
2. Dwight Howard Has Adjusted His Style of Play After Round One
It’s unclear whether this will come back to haunt the Magic down the road, but Howard was extremely conscious of staying out of foul trouble, especially in the first half.
On a number of occasions (as when Josh Smith dunked on him) Howard chose not to challenge a basket-bound Hawk. Woodson should have made him defend Horford off the dribble, which could gotten him in foul trouble. Instead Woodson decided to bench big Al after Horford picked up his first foul...see slide one for explanation.
On offense, Howard made a concerted effort to be under control and avoided a few awful flops by Jason Collins and Josh Smith. The zebras still got him on a terrible call when he attempted a textbook “keep it strong” rebound and outlet that nearly decapitated Josh Smith.
I’m not sure it’s good for Howard to be thinking this much, he isn’t the most naturally cerebral superstar around. But, it definitely is a GREAT thing for him to be on the court in the second half, so if this is what it takes, he should keep doing it.
3. Orlando's Role Players Are Murch More Confident and Decisive
This is where the Magic’s postseason experience and excellent preparation really shows.
When role players like Redick, Pietrus, and Jason Williams enter the game, they know exactly what’s expected of them and what to expect from the Hawks. They snap the ball around the perimeter, are ready to shoot when they’re open and have no fear. Part of this is being at home, and part of it is experience and preparation.
When players instinctively know their roles, they maximize their talents. However, it should be noted that Redick and Pietrus especially benefit from Howard staying on the court and allowing them to catch and shoot or swing the ball.
Atlanta’s bench and role players, led (not sure that word can be used here) by Jamal Crawford, looked terrified and unsure of themselves. In fact, Mike Bibby and Josh Smith were the only two Hawks who really competed every second they were on the court. What a disgrace.
4. Just a Reminder: Vince Carter Could Have Been a Historic Talent
You may already know this, but Vince Carter mails in games and even entire seasons like they were the Census. In Game One, Carter had his “I’m seriously going to try” frowny face on. That usually means we are going to see the Vince Carter that should have been a top five player of the 2000s.
He relentlessly attacked the basket and scored on the kind of moves that only he, Wade, LeBron, and Kobe can pull off. Vince could have been in that pantheon, but he just isn't driven by winning.
Last night was just a stinky middle finger to his former fan bases in New Jersey and Toronto, where he pouted until he was traded. He doesn’t care about his teammates and he shrinks from big moments.
Being on a super deep team is probably the best thing for Vince, who has a habit of choosing inopportune moments to coast.
5. Orlando Will Close This Series Out in Five...
...that is, if they don’t sweep.
The Hawks should snag a game at home, fueled by hot shooting and energy from their home crowd. It’s always hard to evaluate a blowout, but unless the Hawks find a way to get Howard off the court, perhaps by making him defend Horford off the dribble, this series will be over quickly.
The Magic are too disciplined and deep to cough up more than one bad loss to this Hawks team. The playoffs are all about bringing energy and aggressiveness every night, and so far no team has done this better in 2010 than the Orlando Magic.