Arron Afflalo said after the loss to Toronto on Sunday that Orlando has to keep a defensive mentality. Even when the offense is not flowing and the team is not scoring consistently, the defensive end of the floor has to be consistent. It is where offense can be born from.
That is a message Atlanta is certainly aware of with all the playoff experience still on the roster. That is how the Hawks maintained offensive consistency and fluidity in a game where shots were not falling. A forced turnover would lead to a fast break. An offensive rebound would lead to a second chance opportunity.
The attack from Atlanta was constant and unforgiving in a third quarter where Atlanta finally pulled away. The Magic no longer could live on the edge as the offensive glass dried up and the turnovers kept coming from a Magic team already struggling to score points on a consistent basis. With limited fast break opportunities, Orlando's offense stagnated with reliance on mid-range jumpers and a general lack of movement.
Atlanta took advantage of that. Josh Smith finally awoke in the second half after an 0-for-5 start to the game in the first half. The Hawks pulled away with a 24-12 third quarter and had absolute control until a late run from the Magic's bench warmers brought a 24-point lead down to nine with about two minutes left in the game. Atlanta secured an 81-72 victory at Philips Arena on Monday night, sending Orlando to another disappointing loss.
The Magic got the strong start they were looking for, keeping pace with the Hawks in the first quarter and battling for the lead. That was how most of the first half went despite Orlando committing 12 first-half turnovers. The Magic could not pull away because of the miscues and the Hawks' ability to get convert off of them.
Orlando's defense did a good job in the half court throughout the game. Atlanta faced difficult shots and a tough challenge on the perimeter. The Hawks offense was grinding as much as the Magic's. It was the kind of ugly game that the Magic have found themselves in far too often when they happen to keep the other team's score down.
But while Atlanta finally got its offense going in the third quarter, Orlando continued to struggle to put the ball in the basket. The Magic shot only 37.8 percent from the floor and could not get into the paint for easy shots -- shooting only 14 free throws for the game.
The parade of mid-range jumpers that clanked off the rim were not bolstered by offensive rebounds. It was one-shot-and-done for the Magic throughout the third quarter and second half. And the turnovers did not subside much either.
Atlanta scored 24 points off of Orlando's 19 turnovers. That was more than enough for the Hawks to secure the game. Glen Davis was the only player for the Magic to score in double figures, scoring 11 points on 5-for-13 shooting. That is clearly not enough to win almost any game.
And so once again an opportunity slipped away because of a momentary lapse. Until the third quarter, the Magic were in a tightly contested game with a chance to win only to see it completely slip away because of poor offensive movement and inattentiveness on defense. These are things Orlando will have to continue to clean up.
The one bright spot was what happened when the Magic figuratively threw in the towel. Orlando's bench unit featuring Ish Smith, DeQuan Jones, Maurice Harkless, Kyle O'Quinn and Gustavo Ayon brought the 24-point lead down to nine. They played hard, forced turnovers and got out on the break, the very things the Magic were unable to do as the Hawks built their lead in the third quarter.
So it is possible for this team to do what it needs to do. Now it comes down to doing more than lip service and putting a 48-minute game together.