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In one of the worst performances in a closeout game victory you’ll ever see, the Atlanta Hawks were able to send the Orlando Magic into the off-season with an 84-81 victory. Despite the magnitude of the contest this one was a snoozer, even when the Magic cut it to one in the final minute. Orlando had two chances in the final 10 seconds of the game to tie things up. On their first attempt J.J. Redick missed a wide-open three on an in-bounds set but Al Horford rebounded the ball and stepped out of bounds, giving Orlando one more chance with 1.8 seconds to go. Orlando was stuck in a tough position on the floor to get the ball in – a few feet to the right of the basket on the baseline rather than the sideline – and they weren’t even able to get a shot as Jason Richardson attempted to launch a corner three that was blocked by Josh Smith.
The Hawks didn’t look as if they knew this game was a playoff contest. Their body language made it seem like they were playing a regular season game after they had gotten themselves a six or eight point lead – a nice lead, but nothing insurmountable in the playoffs. But to their credit they withstood a late Orlando surge that included some great plays from Dwight Howard and a three by Ryan Anderson. Jameer Nelson had two lay-ups in the final minutes of the game but Orlando’s (or, more specifically, Jason Richardson‘s) inability to secure a rebound after Marvin Williams missed a corner three-pointer with 12 seconds left forced them to foul Jamal Crawford on the rebound. Instead of having the ball down 82-81, the Hawks went to the line and Crawford gave them a three-point lead that Orlando was unable to overcome.
Atlanta shot just 39% from the field in this game but they made up for their lack of efficient shooting by knocking down a higher percentage of three-pointers than the Magic (36% to 26%). The Hawks also did a superior job on the boards and rebounding may very well have been the deciding factor in this game as the Magic were unable to come up with that crucial board with 12 seconds left in the game.
After having a fantastic series, Jamal Crawford had a bit of a dud for the Hawks, as did just about everybody that played for Atlanta, making their victory a bit puzzling. Crawford missed 10 of his 16 shots and bricked seven of his 10 three-point attempts. He ended up with 19 points and the game clinching free throws but after the Hawks survived by his heroic shooting earlier in the series it was odd to see Atlanta pull out the series with Crawford having such a bad night. It’s not as if the Hawks have never overcame a bad shooting night from Crawford before it’s just that Joe Johnson shot 10-of-25, Al Horford missed six of his nine shots and a Josh Smith was a complete disaster on offense (3-of-14 shooting, eight points, four turnovers, tons of settled for jumpers). It’s hard to win games when you’re top four offensive players play terrible but the Hawks came out with the win anyways.
Marvin Williams was the only Hawk to contribute positively on offense in this game, which is almost as shocking as Atlanta winning the game with their top four players struggling. Williams had a big three in the third quarter to push the lead to 10 and finished the game 10 points off the bench.
Dwight Howard gave the Magic all he could. He finished with 25 points (eight-of-14 shooting), 15 rebounds and three blocks. He was all over the place and on offense he was going at the rim hard. For someone that has been played extremely physically in this series by players’ whose sole purpose of being on the floor was to irritate him, Howard was dominant, composed and brilliant. But it wasn’t enough. His teammates continued to miss looks from the outside and without consistent or even just decent production from beyond the arc it’s hard for a team like the Magic, one with no true perimeter creators, to win unless Dwight goes bonkers.
Orlando had their chance to extend their season and force a game seven on their home floor but the same problems that have been there for Orlando all season and series long got them once again. Their long-range shooting wasn’t up to snuff and Dwight Howard just couldn’t carry his team past a Hawks team that, even on one of their worst nights, was too balanced for Orlando to handle.
The Hawks will face the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in a series that starts next Monday. The Hawks did give the Bulls a couple of good games in the regular season but they seem to present less of a challenge to Chicago than the Magic would have. If I had to make a pick right now I’d say Chicago in six.