Orlando Magic 98, Atlanta Hawks 84

A hot start to the game, combined with consistently effective three-point shooting, helped the Orlando Magic defeat the Atlanta Hawks, 98-84, in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series and sweep their way into their second straight Conference Finals. The combined victory margin of 101 set a record for the largest ever in a four-game series. Vince Carter scored 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting, adding 4 three-pointers, which doubled his total from the entire playoffs coming into tonight's game. Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus also sank 4 three-pointers apiece. Jameer Nelson set the tone early with aggressive drives, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the opening period, which saw Orlando jump out to a 34-23 lead. For the game, he led all players with 9 assists. Atlanta seemed to play much harder than it had earlier in the series; the Hawks were as engaged as I've seen them. However, they had no answer for the Magic's outside shooting, and continued to settle for long two-pointers rather than challenge Dwight Howard in the middle. Jamal Crawford missed 10 of his 15 shots from the field, but he converted 8 of his 11 free throws, and drew three fouls on jumpers. His driving layup with 3.7 seconds to play in the third quarter brought Atlanta to within 9 points and energized the sparse Philips Arena crowd, but Orlando scored on four of its first five fourth-quarter possessions, while stopping Atlanta on each of its first four, to take an 18-point lead and suck the life out of the building.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 83 118.2 67.7% 15.4 12.0 19.3
Hawks 83 100.9 42.6% 28.4 19.0 9.6
Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.

The Magic ran their offense to perfection in the first quarter, and got open looks wherever and whenever they wanted. They scored on 15 of their 22 possessions in the period. To further stress the magnitude of the clinic they put on, turnovers from Howard accounted for 3 of the 7 empty trips. Throughout this series, the Hawks failed to consistently take any one facet of Orlando's offense away. They couldn't contain Nelson on the pick-and-roll, Howard in the low post (except for when he turned it over), or any of the perimeter shooting which proved a huge factor in their undoing in this series. Lewis and Pietrus got warmup jumpers thanks to some clean passes, as they did throughout the series. Atlanta tried countering that for a spell by assigning the long, athletic, shot-blocking Josh Smith to cover Pietrus for a few possessions, but rather than use his physical tools as a closeout nightmare, he played off Pietrus and let him shoot. Because playing a guy who had taken 33 of his 46 playoff shot attempts from beyond the arc for the drive is totally reasonable.

But the team-wide hot outside shooting masks the fact that Orlando's offense was ordinary after the first quarter: 64 points on 61 possessions for an offensive rating of 104.9, which is roughly league average, and 17.7 points off the torrid pace they've been on over the last 18 games. Some of it is careless passing, but I credit the Hawks for being more active and aggressive as well. They dug in defensively. Too far in, it turns out, because they simply gave Orlando too many open three-pointers.

At the other end, the Hawks played even more tentatively than usual, and launched a fair amount of jumpers; they seemed especially wary of Howard's presence, and at one point the TNT broadcast crew showed a graphic that said Atlanta attempted 16 jumpers to just 1 shot inside the lane. That shot mix won't get it done, though I do applaud them for at least establishing those shots with ball and player movement; not too many one-on-one possessions tonight for Atlanta.

As the game wore on, though, the Hawks got more aggressive. They posted Smith up on the right block against Lewis in order to make something happen, which it rarely did. But his willingness to put his head down and drive got the whole team involved, I believe, with Crawford showing the most determination of any Hawk. Say what you will about how Orlando out-everything Atlanta in this series, but there's nothing bad you can say about Crawford after his 1-of-11 debacle in Game 1. A cynic might argue that what Crawford did in this series--score a lot of points for an awful team--is unremarkable because he's done it his whole career. I disagree with that idea, which is unfair to Crawford, one of the few Hawks to give an honest effort in these games. He deserves better.

So Orlando hasn't lost in 38 days, and won't play again for at least another week as it awaits the winner of the Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers series. The Magic will take the win, but coach Stan Van Gundy is now tasked with keeping his team energized, engaged, and prepared during another long layoff. And he does have to be concerned a bit, I think, with the miscues and lack of free-throw attempts. But overall? "Solid" doesn't even begin to describe his team's performance in this series.

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