The Atlanta Hawks' offense hummed in a 103-93 win against the Orlando Magic in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Saturday night. Led by Joe Johnson's 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting, the Hawks seized control in the second quarter, scoring 38 points in the period on 73 percent shooting. Dwight Howard set a Magic franchise record for scoring in a half, with 31 points in the first 24 minutes, but Orlando provided him precious little support; with 6 points, backup point guard Gilbert Arenas stood as the Magic's second-leading scorer at intermission.
Jameer Nelson came alive in the second half, scoring all 27 of his points to finally supplement Howard offensively, but no other Orlando player could get anything to drop offensively. Howard's 46 points stands as a personal best in the postseason, but it ultimately didn't matter. Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu finished tied as the Magic's third-leading scorer, with 6 points. That sort of offensive imbalance, with two players combining for more than three-fourths of their team's offense, won't lead to playoff success.
Atlanta, in contrast, had five players score in double-figures, with each shooting 50 percent from the floor or better. Since the Magic swept them in last year's Eastern Conference Quarterfinals by an average of 25.3 points per game, the Hawks have taken four of the last five meetings from Orlando.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.
It's tempting, I believe, for Magic fans to panic here. I'm not entirely sure that's warranted. Yes, the Hawks scored efficiently. I understand that much. But it's the Hawks' first truly great offensive performance against the Magic's typically stout defense since March 22nd, 2008, when Mike Bibby (five three-pointers) helped the Hawks score 112 points in 96 possessions... in an Orlando victory. Indeed, the Hawks went more than three years without cracking 1.1 points per possession against Orlando, and I'm skeptical their jump-shooting core of Johnson, Jamal Crawford, and Josh Smith can continue to hit mostly difficult shots with a high degree of accuracy.
But the Magic still have serious issues to work out if they are to rally back and take this series. Apart from the serious scoring imbalance, turnovers continue to plague the team. Their 18 miscues tonight led to 21 Hawks points. Howard will draw criticism for his 8 turnovers, but if anything, Quentin Richardson (2 turnovers in 7 minutes despite hardly ever touching the ball) and Arenas (3 in 12 minutes) deserve a bit more scrutiny.
Having said all that, the Magic did manage to get some great looks for Jason Richardson (4 points, 2-of-8 shooting, 41 minutes) and J.J. Redick (4 points, 2-of-6 shooting), but they didn't fall. Orlando had a chance to win this game, and I wonder if it were to be played again, with each player on both sides getting the same exact shot attempts, if the Magic would prevail. You'll forgive me, I'm sure, for not trusting that Crawford and Smith will continue burying long jumpers late in the clock.
Orlando's defense will come around as the Hawks regress to the mean. I have no doubt about that. What's less clear is if the Magic can clean up their act on offense. Howard dominated--he had to, the way his teammates kept coming up empty--but it resulted in sets with no movement or creativity. More pick-and-rolls, and fewer straight post-ups, for Howard ought to keep the defense guessing and, in turn, generate shots for everyone.