For the eighth time in 10 games since the Orlando Magic sent Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus packing in December of 2010, the Atlanta Hawks closed out Magic shooters, held Dwight Howard down and pushed past Orlando, 83-78, on Thursday night.
The Hawks have matched up better against Orlando since that deal, and this night was no exception, despite a staggering Hawks team that played without 2011 All-Stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford, and had lost three in a row as it limped into the final game before the All-Star break for both teams.
At times both teams looked as if they were on vacation already, as the Hawks took advantage of Magic miscues in the first half, and Orlando fought back in the second half due to lethargic Atlanta play. Both teams shot below 40 percent for the game, with the Hawks at 39.7 and the Magic at 37.8 percent.
Josh Smith scored a game-high 22 points, 14 of which occurred in a Hawks' friendly first quarter, where Atlanta jumped out to a nine-point lead and shot 50 percent. The Hawks lead became 17 by halftime due to a 10-point second quarter for Orlando where they shot 4-16 and had just a single offensive rebound.
After the break, it was the Hawks' turn to go cold, returning the 4-16 favor to the Magic from the field, and one-upping them by getting zero offensive rebounds, as the talent-depleted Hawks' roster began to show some wobble.
Down the stretch, the Hawks made just enough shots and plays to pull past Orlando, who went back to being cold late, making only one of nine three-point attempts in the quarter. Willie Green made a big three and a floater over Howard as part of a personal 10-point fourth quarter to get the win for Atlanta.
Howard was limited to seven shots in almost 40 minutes, leaving him with a modest 12-point, 12-rebound night against the Hawks. He was held down mainly by Zaza Pachulia, who had 13 rebounds of his own, six of them being offensive rebounds.
Over at Peachtree Hoops, I wondered if Magic fans think they will ever beat the Hawks again:
Tonight, with Joe Johnson and Al Horford nowhere to be found in uniform and the team floundering with 18 turnovers, shooting under 40 percent with eight of their shots blocked and the Magic with a fully operational Dwight Howard in uniform along with Hedo Turkoglu, Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick, the Magic still couldn't get the job done, even when the Hawks were begging them to in the second half. Whoa.
Meanwhile, Evan Dunlap at Orlando Pinstriped Post breaks down how the Magic break down against the Hawks:
In some ways, the Hawks' personnel is uniquely suited to give the Magic fits. Point guards Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich expertly apply ball pressure to their Magic counterparts, who lack the quickness and handles to shed them effectively. The entire team handles pick-and-rolls well, Smith's hard closeouts on Orlando's jump-shooting forwards disrupts their rhythm, and Zaza Pachulia can ably defend Howard without double-team help. When the Hawks do double-team Howard, they vary their coverage so as to remain unpredictable. Generally speaking, Atlanta's ability to shrink the floor wreaks havoc on Orlando, and forces it to grind out games. The Magic aren't accustomed to playing that style.