In a series where Orlando trailed most of the way and trailed in every game most of the way, you had a feeling you knew how it would end. With Jamal Crawford hoisting a wild three or Joe Johnson hoisting a smooth floater to end it. The Magic had no answer for that late in games.
Maybe you didn't expect it to end this way. Not with J.J. Redick staring a down a wide open space in front of him and a clear look at the basket thanks to a Dwight Howard screen. Orlando had seen open looks from three all series and been unable to make it. But like good shooters, they continued to believe the next one would fall.
Now there are no next shots. Redick's 3-pointer missed. Orlando got one more chance and saw Jason Richardson's last-second heave miss on a block. The streamers came down from the roof of Philips Arena and the Atlanta faithful for the third straight year will welcome the Eastern Conference Semifinals to their building. Orlando, for the first time since 2007 and the first time in Stan Van Gundy's career, are heading home in the first round.
Atlanta played with the energy that comes from what might as well be a game seven for them in an 84-81 series-clinching win in Game Six on Thursday.
Orlando showed a ton of fight, but were just a little slower to loose balls and rebounds for most of the game. Atlanta had the passion and energy to win this one from start to finish. The Hawks had 14 offensive rebounds, making up for a 39.2 percent shooting night. The Hawks did damage on the glass and were faster to the paint and to loose balls.
It showed when Orlando cut the lead to one and got a stop when Marvin Williams missed an open three. But the Hawks got to the ball first and tipped it out to Jamal Crawford with 11 seconds left. The Magic were forced to foul and see the lead go up to three. The strategy changes between a one-point game and a three-point game.
Those little plays proved to be the difference throughout this game and throughout this series.
In a best-of-seven series, the team that can do these little things the most will win. The team that executes the best and plays with composure will win. Orlando really never had these things all series and for a good portion of Game Six did not either.
The Magic came out a little tight. They were able to make shots but turned the ball over at an extremely high rate, committing five in the first quarter alone. Atlanta fed off the energy of the crowd and it propelled the team to the lead. The Hawks are a team that gains confidence with a lead, as Stan Van Gundy noted post game, and it snowballed for them all series.
The Hawks had an answer for every Magic run. When it seemed like Orlando would go on a scoring run, Jamal Crawford would make a big shot. His 3-pointer, off a Zaza Pachulia offensive rebound no less, gave the Hawks a six-point lead. The Ryan Anderson foul and technical foul gave the Hawks an eight-point lead on a rare five-point play.
In an elimination game like this a play like that has a major impact. The Magic were fighting back from a 6-10 point deficit all game long. Atlanta established its lad on this play.
The Magic struggled to come back all night. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford were no longer settling for mid-range jump shots and looked to attack. They pulled Dwight Howard out of position to open up weakside offensive rebounders. Again, this was not that particular players were not playing hard, they just were not directing their energy in the right place. The Hawks got to the offensive glass faster. Joe Johnson had seven offensive rebounds. A guard crashed the glass hard and often did not have to see Dwight Howard there to challenge him.
Orlando did a good job correcting this in the second half as Gilbert Arenas and Ryan Anderson added support to secure the glass and Dwight Howard really did his thing (15 rebounds, five offensive). But the Hawks continued to fight off the Magic with big shot after big shot.
Atlanta took a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter simply by making shots and doing what Orlando often does to its opponents. Dwight Howard was dominant early in the fourth quarter, working the pick and roll beautifully with Gilbert Arenas but the Hawks were making threes. Crawford (19 points, 3-for-10 3-point shooting) and Marvin Williams (10 points, 2-for-3 3-point shooting) drained threes early in the fourth quarter that seemed to bury Orlando.
The Magic had one more run in them. They had to fight through the frustration of wild and poorly officiated third quarter. Howard attacked the basket and scored a game-high 25 points. It freed up Ryan Anderson for three and he started attacking the offensive glass. Anderson finished with five points and four rebounds, but they all came during an 8-0 run that brought the Magic back into the game.
From there it became about execution.
And ultimately this is where Orlando's season came to a screeching halt. Joe Johnson was able to stand at the top of the key and dribble down the shot clock before making a quick dribble move and getting to the basket, finishing with a reverse layup at the rim. Who on Orlando can do that?
Jameer Nelson sure tried. He scored four straight points with 90 seconds left to make it a one-point game. But Atlanta, which in the past may have crumbled and given up the lead, showed its growth once again and held on to the lead. Finding that one little play -- an offensive rebound tip out to Jamal Crawford -- to put the game out of reach.
J.J. Redick stared down that three with the season on his shoulders and took a good look. Orlando had fought as hard as it could (or maybe not) but it was not enough.
The Magic ran out of chances and played with fire too long.
Photos via DayLife.com.
People are going to gripe about Otis. And they are right. The trade chips we had(Gortat, Carter, MP, Lewis) Could have netted us any of the following players:Gerald Wallace, Aaron Brooks, Courtney Lee, Kirk Heinrich, Coulda just kept Gortat Instead we got Richardson, Arenas, and Turkoglu. We had more to trade as well, Bass, anderson, Meer, Qrich. But still all we got in an all in move was turkoglu, arenas and jason richardson. Aaron Brooks, JJ Reddick, Gerald Wallace, Bass/anderson, HOward That should have been our starting 5, more importantly it could have been as wallace and aaron brooks were moved for less than the assets we would have been giving up. That team would stand defensively toe to toe with any team, would probably still have MP and Qrich come off the bench as defensive stoppers and mp as a spark plug back up 2. At the 3 wallace is backed up by Qrich, both defensively as good as you can hope for. At the 1 Nelson backs up Aaron brooks because Aaron brooks is a defensive locked down guy in addition for his talent on the offensive end and ability to create- Jameer comes off the bench to QB the offense while brooks rests. At the 4 Keep the bass/anderson combo. They're both good individual defenders who on a team built defense first would be more than enough defensively at their position. When bass is on the floor he should be used as a relief valve after all other otpions have exhausted offensively, let bass shoot his stupid 40% jumper he shoots everytime he touches its. When Anderson is in the Offense can pick and roll with brooks/Howard as he can keep his man clear of the room that combo would need to work. At the 5 you have Howard. No he can't play all the minutes all season. Yes he can in the playoffs. The great thing about the team constructed above is that Howard wouldn't need to be making up for his team's defensive inadequacies while also giving up nothing offensively to the team currently constructed- in Many Many ways its alot better.
@DavidPolega Very good points. I am definitely going to get into more of the effects of the trade this week as I try to recap the season. I think we all agree the team Orlando had at the beginning of the year was not going to win a title. Otis made a bold bold move in doing something when he did. It would have been easy to say the team would round into form.
Smith likely pulled the trigger a little too soon and got stubborn in believing Hedo and Gilbert could save the day. There were better assets out there that would have given the Magic more flexibility for sure.
@DavidPolega I too wish we would have made some trades to acquire some of the players you mentioned. I think Gerald Wallace would be an absolutely perfect fit for the team. I still wish there was some way to get him. But, it doesn't matter now. What's done is done. Hopefully Orton can learn to backup Howard for about 10 mins a game in the regular season next year. Hopefully the flashes of Arenas' old self that we saw in Game 4 & 5 can be replicated on a consistent basis next year and for more minutes, if his knee can become healthier. BUT, more than anything, hopefully the new CBA saves our asses in some way, like being about to drop a contract or something.
My question now is, do we resign J-Rich & Earl? I say yes if we can get Jason cheap, but no if we cannot. As far as Earl, he will be cheap, and we should definitely resign him. Maybe he can develop into a big long small forward? Or, maybe he develops enough at the 4 position so that Bass becomes an expendable trade asset.
As far as the Dwight situation, I don't think he will leave. He does not want to be a Shaq or Lebron, and he is a loyal guy who loves Orlando. I haven't heard anyone mention it in the BS rumors, but my biggest concern would be Dwight leaving for New Orleans or Atlanta. Could you see him playing with Paul and West under Monty Williams? That team would be ridiculous. Plus, maybe he'd get better calls & more ref respect if he played on the team essentially owner by the dictator we call David Stern. As far as Atlanta, imagine Dwight going to his home town to play with his friends Josh Smith & Powell, and allowing Horford to always play the 4. No way he considers going to the Lakers, Nets, or Knicks. I wish people would stop talking about that. I think they just sound stupid. Almost as stupid as the people that have been saying we should get Doc Rivers in order to keep Dwight.