Like many, I was confident the Magic would beat the Hawks in four or five games. Although Dwight Howard’s inability to move around on the court without tossing someone into the stands was chink in the armor exposed in Round One, you just got the feeling the Hawks played right into Orlando’s hands.
Of course, I didn’t predict that the Magic would spank the Hawks hard enough to leave a handprint four times in a row. But maybe I should have.
For those of us not from Orlando, this turned out to be one of the most unwatchable playoff series ever. Except for three quarters in Game Two and the second quarter of Game Four, the Hawks played with less heart than any playoff team I’ve ever seen. So on aggregate one game’s worth of effort. Eesh.
Kudos to Jamal Crawford for playing well after Game One in his first trip to the playoffs and to Al Horford for gamely attempting to handle Dwight “I’m secretly not a good guy” Howard. Unfortunately for the fans, it was enough. Not even close.
Here’s five reasons we should have seen this coming…
1. Mike “No, this is just my normal facial expression” Woodson
Most people saw this matchup as a major mismatch, but it isn’t as though Atlanta is talentless. It’s conceivable that by trapping and pressing all over the court, the Hawks could have disrupted the Magic’s offense, pushed the games to a favorable tempo and made Howard less of a half court factor.
You couldn’t play Bibby at all doing this, but something was needed to shake things up. Maybe such a drastic maneuver could have turned the series in the Hawks’ favor (OK, maybe not, but humor me).
Instead, the Hawks basically did the same thing for four games even though they were getting housed each time. Why? I have to guess because Woodson doesn’t really know how to coach them any other way. Look, I’m not going to completely condemn the man, but after two blowouts, wouldn’t you think “Gee, maybe I should switch things up a bit.”
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Well then, it’s time to commit Woodson. It probably didn’t help that he knows he is going to be fired and his players are a bunch of knuckleheads, but he just wasn’t up to the task.
2. You Can’t Beat The Magic With Isolations
NBA talent coach David Thorpe, who loses more basketball knowledge when he drinks a beer than most writers will ever have, predicted this offensive tactic would be a major problem for the Hawks.
The Hawks love that Iso look with Joe Johnson going one on one from the right wing as the four other players stand around and watch. This “play” can be pretty efficient because Johnson doesn’t turn the ball over, almost always gets a good shot, and the Hawks crash the offensive glass to get extra possessions. So, the Hawks don’t wast possessions and keep a low shooting percentage from hurting them by shooting more second chance shots.
But not only did Johnson take a dump on his max contract dreams, had he played well the Hawks O-Rebounds attack would have been neutralized because Howard is such a phenomenal defensive rebounder (Howard grabbed 11 defensive boards per game).
It just wasn’t going to happen for the Hawks by running isolation looks, they needed to get Utah style ball/player movement to drag Howard away from the hoop and open up some driving lanes. Instead, they let Howard be a weak side terror by not feeding Horford and having Smith and Johnson attempt to create for themselves.
Want to know what else wasn’t helping?…
3. Mike Bibby Is Old…Really Old.
Consider Brandon Jennings and Jameer Nelson the pallbearers for Mike Bibby’s funeral. After Jennings melted Bibby’s ankles for seven games in round one, the savvy and muscular Nelson abused Bibby so cruelly that Mike only played 17 minutes per game against Orlando.
This was rough because the Hawks really could have used a steady hand on the court when things were melting down.
It was sad watching Bibby, who at one point was as tough a jump shooting point guard as there was in the NBA, look so over-matched. I hope people remember him as the only Kings player who really stood up to LA in the early 2000s.
At the height of my playing powers I used to tell people that I played like a young Mike Bibby—too slow to get to the rack all the time, but reliable handle, great off of the pick and roll, knock down shooter spotting up or off the dribble, decent defense, smart floor leader.
Now, I say that I play like current Mike Bibby to avoid anyone expecting me to contribute.
I’ll remember Bibby as the guy who was never afraid to make the big shot. But at this point he doesn’t even have the goods to put his team in a position to need a clutch shot.
4. Rashard Lewis Completely Neutralizes Josh Smith’s Best Qualities
The Atlanta Hawks rely heavily on fast break opportunities to score easy buckets. One of their favorite ways of generating full court play is off of blocks and rebounds by hyper athletic forward Josh Smith. Josh needs big energy boosting plays like his ferocious blocks to incite the home crowd, pump up his teammates, and keep himself engaged.Against Milwaukee, Smith swatted well over two shots per game. In the four games against Orlando, he had just two blocks total. Atlanta desperately needed him to supplement Horford’s valiant effort inside, but the constant threat of Lewis bombing away from deep kept Smith tethered to the perimeter.
Left alone, Dwight Howard feasted on Horford all series.
PS- Josh Smith is a head case, I can’t wait to see who overpays for him in 2013.
5. Energy Is The Key To Beating The Magic
If you were going to pick 500 words that could describe the Hawks, I doubt that “focused” or “consistent” would crack the list. That’s a problem going up against a team that is as hungry and determined as any team in the league.
Like the Suns (and the 2008 Celtics), the Magic play with exceptional chemistry and trust. Aside from the occasional “Dwight Howard isn’t very skilled” pass to a lucky fan, these guys have very few mental lapses.
The Disney Kids play with tremendous energy. Unlike other skills that can wax and wane, you always have the power to play at your highest energy level, and the Magic embrace that opportunity like no other team.
Because of this, the Hawks were going to need a near perfect game to overcome their coaching and personnel disadvantages. I’m not sure the Hawks managed a perfect quarter in this series.
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