Orlando Magic 93, Atlanta Hawks 89

The game went down to the wire, but in the end, the Orlando Magic prevailed over the Atlanta Hawks, 93-89, as they tend to do. Dwight Howard tallied 27 points and 11 rebounds and Vince Carter scored 19 points in 26 foul-plagued minutes to lead the Magic to victory despite their poor stroke from the outside; the Magic shot 4-of-22 from three-point range, and indeed tonight marks their fourth win in 16 games under coach Stan Van Gundy without making more than 5 three-pointers. The Hawks jumped out to a 21-8 lead by shooting 10-of-13 from the floor. Of those buckets, 7 came as the result of a jumper, which they clearly wouldn't sustain throughout the course of the game. Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass, the Magic's reserve big men, came into the game and gave the Magic some much-needed momentum. Orlando closed on an 11-0 run against Atlanta's overmatched second unit, which shot 1-of-5 from the floor and committed 4 turnovers in that stretch.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Hawks 88 100.7 50.0% 17.1 15.7 19.2
Magic 92 101.4 45.3% 17.4 22.4 10.9
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

But the ending to this game is far more interesting than the beginning, so let's go there. The Magic simply could not get a bucket in the second half, while the Hawks converted their mostly well-defended looks at the other end. Howard and Carter had 4 and 5 personal fouls, meaning the Magic fielded a fourth-quarter lineup of Jason Williams, J.J. Redick, Quentin Richardson, Bass, and Gortat for a time. Ordinarily, this unit won't see much action in key moments of critical games. However, foul trouble and the sprained left ankle of Jameer Nelson left the Magic without their three top offensive options for crucial stretches of the game. In a seven-minute, 16-second span of the fourth quarter, no Magic starter made a field goal. The reserves had to make do with what they had.

Williams, fittingly, hit the go-ahead bucket for Orlando, a pull-up three-pointer from the right side to give them an 84-82 lead they wouldn't relinquish. Williams made both his three-point tries tonight, and while his shot-selection on two-pointers was suspect, he was a key contributor to Orlando's win. Just 2 assists in 23 minutes for a point guard, sure, but also 2 steals and 8 rebounds, the second-best mark on the team and the most he's posted individually in six years.

The game would not have been close were it not for the Magic missing shots at a higher rate than expected, while Atlanta converted a high percentage on some difficult looks. "If the Magic shot better, and the opponents shot worse, the game would be a blowout" is rather shoddy analysis sometimes, but I believe it holds true here. Credit the Hawks for executing their offense--though they did commit 17 turnovers--but for the most part the Magic can live with the looks it afforded Atlanta.

On the other end, the Hawks tried not double-teaming Howard, a new approach for them under Larry Drew. Howard scored 15 points in the first half and another 9 in the third quarter, so maybe that tactic wasn't the greatest. But it's worth noting that Jason Collins drew the assignment tonight, and he's twice held Howard to 2 points or fewer, according to John Schuhmann of NBA.com. Collins didn't make anything easy for Howard, and for most of the game, it didn't matter. He finished in the post with either hand and even drained a jumper. All told, Howard shot 10-of-20 from the field, below his standards. I think he tried rushing things in the second half a bit. But he did just enough to help Orlando weather the storm offensively.

Carter scored delivered the Magic's biggest buckets, with two layups and a free throw in a 57-second span which helped the Magic bump their lead to four points. He missed two foul shots in that stretch, though, bringing his free-throw shooting on the year down to 57.1 percent. Those misses kept Atlanta's door propped open just enough for it to hold out hope of victory.

The real story for the Magic, I think, is defense. On a night when the three-balls wouldn't drop, Orlando dug in at that end of the court and did not relent. One late-game sequence proved quite telling: Josh Smith missed a layup right at the rim, got his own miss, and again missed a layup before Lewis secured the board. As play continued in the other direction, Smith hung his head and walked up the floor. No Magic player was credited with a block on the play, but Howard's presence in the paint certainly altered Smith's shots.

Van Gundy went jumbo tonight by pairing Howard and Gortat in certain lineups. Mickael Pietrus earned a Did Not Play-Coach's Decision despite the fact that Atlanta star Joe Johnson had his midrange game going, finishing with 21 points on 9-of-15 from the floor.

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