The Atlanta Hawks ended the Orlando Magic's season Thursday night with an 84-81 victory in Game Six of their playoff series, and for the first time in four seasons, the Magic failed to advance to the second round of the playoffs. Joe Johnson scored 23 for Atlanta, while Jamal Crawford added 19, but their combined 16-of-41 shooting attests to the fact that the Hawks took this game for reasons apart from their offense.
Indeed, the Hawks--the league's second-worst offensive rebounding team in the regular season--snared 36.8 percent of their own misses Thursday night against a Magic team which led the league in defensive rebounding. As a result of the offensive boards and frequent misses, the Hawks finished the game with 12 more field-goal attempts than the Magic, which may have been the difference in a three-point game.
The rebounds weren't flukes, but rather resulted from Atlanta exploiting the defensive adjustment Orlando made in winning Game Five. Dwight Howard's ignoring his nominal matchup at center in order to shade Johnson and Crawford took him out of rebounding position, and the Magic failed to properly box out Atlanta. Johnson himself picked up 7 such rebounds, many of them of the "look what I found" variety.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.
Despite falling behind by as many as 12 points, the Magic managed to fight back in the second half thanks to Hedo Turkoglu, who started the game 0-of-7 from the floor, finally beginning to hit shots. His three-pointer at the 4:01 mark of the third brought Orlando to within a point, but the Hawks responded with a four-point possession thanks to a flagrant-foul free throw by Zaza Pachulia and a three-pointer from Marvin Williams, giving the Hawks a five-point lead again.
That pattern persisted throughout the closing minutes of this game: Orlando would get close, but the Hawks would answer. That was never more evident than during the first 2:43 of the fourth, when the Hawks shot 4-of-4 from three-point range to open up a 12-point lead; their only empty trip during that span was a pass Al Horford threw away.
On some level, you have to respect the Magic for having the resolve to make this comeback. I mean that. With their season on the line, they responded with great effort. The problem is--and you knew I wouldn't let them off the hook, right?--they didn't bring that intensity from the opening tip.
Despite their inability to rebound effectively for the first 24 minutes, and the Hawks finding the range from beyond the arc, Orlando fought back again and had a chance to at least send the game to overtime with 8 seconds remaining. The play Stan Van Gundy drew up during the previous timeout worked beautifully, freeing J.J. Redick, a career 39.4 percent three-point shooter, for a wide-open triple try on the right wing. I do mean wide open. Howard screened Crawford off so effectively, and their teammates spread the court so wide, that Redick easily had eight feet of space between himself and the nearest player on the court. Given the circumstances, you couldn't ask for a better look.
Redick missed, Horford rebounded and stepped out of bounds, and Josh Smith blocked Jason Richardson's wild three-point attempt at the buzzer. Goodnight.
But to me, what sticks out more than Redick's miss is the Magic's failure to secure the defensive board on the Hawks' previous possession. Orlando gambled as the Hawks milked the clock, and the ball found Williams in the left corner, where he had plenty of space to launch what would have been the clinching three. The shot went long and a bit to the right, bouncing off the rim and brushing Richardson's fingertips on its descent.
Orlando didn't get the loose ball. Johnson did. The Magic had to play the free-throw game, sending Crawford to the line for the foul shots which provided the final 84-81 margin.
We haven't mentioned Crawford's five-point play, Redick's dunk, Howard's finally drawing a flagrant foul (one guess as to who committed it), or Jameer Nelson's two clutch layups yet. And we won't.
Apart from the ten-point Game One loss on their home floor, the Magic had realistic chances to win the games they lost, despite their poor play. What you make of the fact that they didn't dictates how you'll assess Orlando's season. We can agree that a first-round defeat for the league's second-highest-paid team constitutes a failure; we're talking about degrees of failure here.
We'll talk more about that, among other things, in the coming days, weeks, and months. This thread is to discuss Game Six between Orlando and Atlanta.
Thanks for reading. Let's do it again next year.