What We'll Learn in Game 4 vs. Hawks
Is there any fight left in the Hawks?
The last time everyone was asking this question, Atlanta had blown a lead in Game Five against Milwaukee and faced a 3-2 deficit going on the road. The Hawks found a way to win Game Six and then blew out the Bucks in Game Seven at home to reach the conference semifinals.
This question is being asked again after Orlando came in to Philips Arena and completely dominated an uninspired Atlanta team. It was evident early the Hawks wanted nothing to do with playing in Game Three and what usually is a momentum-swinging game for the lower seeded team instead became a complete rout.
No one is giving Atlanta much of a chance to win this game. That could certainly play into the team's favor.
But there is no evidence in this series that the Hawks have that resolve against this team. It seems every time they do something right, the Magic counters and crushes their spirit. Every mistake seems to compound.
Reading the body language of Atlanta in Game Three, it appears this team is ready for summer. Watching Rashard Lewis outwork Josh Smith for a rebound and then waltz to the hoop as Smith and another player were confused about who had him, is a definite sign of this lack of effort. Look down the bench even early in the game Saturday. There were sulking faces, towels over heads and pure frustration.
The worst part is it seems no one in Atlanta's locker room is taking responsibility or pushing the team to bounce back. Joe Johnson has taken a whole bunch of the blame for his lack of production on the court, but he seems to be trying to pass off his leadership responsibilities. He is not putting anything on himself and instead venting his frustrations on everyone else.
It is sad really. Atlanta is a good team. Hawks fans must be frustrated that their team seems content with meeting expectations (and let's be real, all Atlanta was going to do was get to the conference semifinals this year).
Maybe Atlanta is just a regular season team. Its style seems to fit on a night-to-night basis. But in a series, it becomes too predictable and easy to adjust to and counter.
Whatever fight Atlanta has in them, Orlando will see tonight in Game Four. But it will not just take a more focused effort from Joe Johnson. That alone will not make up 30 points (and the Magic have shown on multiple occasions this season they can win by that margin). The Hawks will need Josh Smith to play with more energy. They will need everyone playing at the same level as the Magic.
Even that may not be enough. Orlando has not been pushed yet in this postseason, but the team is about as dialed in and focused as any team could be in the quest for a championship.
How will Atlanta get Dwight Howard back into foul trouble?
Dwight Howard's foul trouble throughout the Playoffs has been very well documented. It was the story of the first round and something every fan and commentator has kept an eye on throughout the series with Atlanta.
Saturday in Game Three, the Hawks finally got Howard out of the game early. Saturday it did not matter so much. The Magic continued to put pressure on the Hawks and get inside the paint with dribble penetration and pick and roll plays. Atlanta may not play that uninspired Monday.
So if Howard gets in foul trouble in Game Four, will that allow Atlanta to make a move and take the lead? Odds are no, unless Howard is in foul trouble the whole game.
The Hawks had an effective double team on Howard that kept him from being effective offensively in the first half. When Orlando took advantage from the perimeter, Atlanta single covered Howard in the second half. Howard devoured that defense in his 21-point, 16-rebound performance.
Atlanta very early on did a good job attacking the basket, forcing Howard to close in and defend. Howard had to be aware of Al Horford was after his Game Two performance where he made a living with mid-range jumpers. Howard was more cognizant of that and did a better job closing out on Horford and forcing Atlanta to engage him in other ways.
Frankly, Orlando's perimeter defense was very good in Game Three and Howard was not needed much. Rashard Lewis got in the paint and blocked a few shots from behind and Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes continued to force Joe Johnson into long, contested jumpers.
Atlanta has to be aware of its one on one play and hope to temper it (something the team has struggled with all season). The Hawks have had some success when they move the ball and work off cuts. But they just don't do it often enough. This movement and rotation is what gets Howard in foul trouble. They must make this their offensive gameplan.
Are the Magic killers?
If one sweep did not answer this question, the second one certainly will. Whether it is legitimate or not, media, fans and commentators all believe the Magic are a team that can give up big leads. Whether that is a reference to the old Third Quarter Collapse days or a commentary on what people think Orlando's style of play is, it is a sentiment that many people have.
Let's put that to rest.
Orlando does have a killer instinct. The team has shown throughout this series that it does not care how much it will win by or how demoralized its opponent feels after the game ends.
The Magic had the largest point differential in the league and has not had too many games that came down to the wire. And even those games seemed to end in blowouts.
Orlando seems completely focused on the task at hand. Nothing is shaking the team right now. Atlanta does not appear able to stop them and it seems this momentum will carry them off to the conference finals.