Magic Complete Sweep of Hawks, On to Conference Finals
In the end Atlanta may not have had any chance to win in this series. Everything the Hawks tried worked at times, and then the Magic adjusted. Orlando had all the answers.
The Hawks can say they went down fighting, but it still was nowhere near enough. The Magic swept the Hawks with a 98-84 win in Game Four. They await the winner of the Cleveland-Boston series and face possibly another week between games.
Atlanta really played its best game (except for the first parts of Game Two) and certainly picked up the pieces after a pitiful effort in Game Three. There simply was not enough in the tank or enough skill on the floor to top an Orlando team that could simply pick them apart.
The Magic shot near 80 percent in the first quarter, moving the ball beautifully from side to side and taking near uncontested 3-pointers. Jameer Nelson attacked the paint to initiate the offense and found cutters and shooters as Atlanta's defense collapsed around him. Nelson scored 16 points and dished out six of his nine assists in the first quarter. Orlando held a 34-23 lead after one quarter, even with Atlanta shooting 52 percent.
The Hawks, to their credit, finally started making shots early. Then in the second quarter, after scoring no points in the paint, they attacked and tried to score inside. It was successful as Atlanta cut into the lead or kept it stable around 10 points. But the Hawks could never get closer.
Dwight Howard was a big reason why. Joe Johnson was more aggressive and hit some jumpers early. But on every trip to the paint, he had one eye on Howard. Howard was active (although he did not fill up the traditional box score) and changed just about every shot taken near the rim.
If Atlanta converts those, maybe there is a Game Five on Wednesday. Howard, pulled away from the basket for most of the night after Al Horford hit his first couple mid-range jumpers, scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
His only problem tonight was his seven turnovers. The Magic struggled with turnovers throughout the game as the attention to detail was up and down throughout the game. Orlando committed 15 turnovers, doubling Atlanta's seven turnovers. This allowed the Hawks to hang around.
But every time Atlanta would make a run, Orlando stepped up its game and closed the door.
Howard's defensive presence was very evident. But the Magic also did a good job keeping their hands active -- as they have all series -- and forcing the Hawks into turnovers, poor shots and allowing them to settle into one on one basketball.
Johnson ended up with 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting despite the good start. Jamal Crawford had his moments, but was also 5 for 15 and scored 18 points. His floater at the end of the third quarter cut the Magic's lead to nine. Then Orlando went on a 9-0 run and had an 18-point lead.
Three-point shooting had a big part in Orlando's win tonight. Again, it did seem like the team was doing just enough to keep a comfortable lead while never blowing the game completely open.
The 3-point barrage started early and carried throughout the game. Rashard Lewis was the main culprit hitting on four of his seven attempts on his way to 17 points. Carter also made four of seven in his 22-point effort.
The lead was built in the first quarter by some great ball movement around the perimeter to find open shooters. Yes, Orlando fell in love with the perimeter shot while the team went cold in the second and third quarters. But when it came time to answer a Hawks run, the Magic had the perfect play to answer -- whether it was getting the ball to Dwight Howard in the post, driving and dishing or making that clutch 3-pointer.
Atlanta played much better, but never had that sense of urgency necessary to win an elimination game. The Magic beat the Hawks to loose balls throughout the night and the Hawks never took the game.
In the end, Orlando was simply a better team and perhaps Atlanta had no chance at winning. This was another business-like game where the Magic simply won and moved on (this time, literally). Listening to this team, they seem very focused in and hungry for the next challenge. They may have to wait a while, but for now they are halfway to their ultimate goal.