The saying goes “a series doesn’t start until someone loses at home,” but despite dropping game one in Orlando followed by a closely contested game two, the Magic still seemed to lack a sense of urgency as the fell to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.
The Magic were outplayed in the first half and despite a better effort in the second, they were unable to slow the Hawks who were lifted by a rowdy, sold out crowd in Philips Arena.
“It’s very disappointing at this time of year,” Stan Van Gundy said during the post-game press conference. “We didn’t play the game hard enough or with enough intensity on the defensive end in the first half.”
Given Jameer Nelson’s comments about seeing Derrick Rose in the second round and Howard’s comments about hating to lose to the Hawks, the Magic have to be shocked to find themselves down 2-1 against a team they swept last year.
Orlando entered the series with the attitude of a team with an easy path to the second round while the Hawks entered the series with a sour taste in their mouth from last year’s disappointing effort mixed with confidence built from winning three of their four regular season meetings.
So far in this series the Magic seem unable to deal with the Hawk’s perimeter prowess as Joe Johnson dominated early and Jamal Crawford took the stage in the second half including a circus shot that rivals all of the best plays of this year’s young post-season. Johnson managed to score 17 first half points off of 8-13 shooting from the field while Crawford dropped 20 points in the second half as he went 2-3 from three and 6-8 from the FT line. The duo is now averaging 43.6 points per game in the series.
The Magic have the advantage in the post over most teams they face just off of the strength of Howard’s dominating presence. Rather than focus all their attention in the paint, however, the Hawks have taking a different approach to handling the Magic which has paid off so far.
“It isn’t just stopping Dwight,” Jason Collins, a key part in helping slow Howard said. “Its about also containing their three point shooters.”
Howard has put forth a herculean effort each contest but one man can only do so much and Dwight Howard desperately needs his teammates to step up.
Van Gundy said there is no confusion as to where the help has to come from.
“We know who are guys are,” he said. “Our guys are Jameer, Turk and J. Rich. They’re just not having a lot of success. I think we have to continue to look at ways to get them better opportunities, better shots and they have to make the ones they get.”
As of late, Hedo Turkoglu has been more of a liability than a helping hand. He’s shooting an abysmal 25 percent from the field and 17.6 from deep as he has knocked down just three of his 17 from three.
“I think it all starts with Josh Smith,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “Hedo has gotten away from (Smith) a few times where has got to the basket where he has drove the ball but I think Josh has done a really good job defending him out on the perimeter.”
Stan Van Gundy said that Turkoglu is showing a lot of effort but thinks that he has to have better shot selection to get out of his current slump.
“I can’t get Turk to shoot the ball when he is open,” Van Gundy said. “I think he very consistently passes up very good shots to take very bad shots.”
Game 4 will undoubtedly have a different tone as both Jason Richardson and Zaza Pachulia will serve one game suspensions for their involvement in Friday night’s altercation. Pachulia has played a key role in “operation beat the hell out of Dwight” while Van Gundy was hoping to get an offense boost from Richardson.
Perhaps such a heartbreaking lost will be enough to inspire a 48 minute effort from the Magic as that is what it will take for Orlando to fight their way back into the series.
“We aren’t gonna’ be able to go 24 minutes of playing hard and get a win,” Van Gundy said.