By John Carroll
The Atlanta Hawks beat the Orlando Magic in the pivotal Game 3 on a last second bank shot by Jamal Crawford. It is the fifth time they have beaten the Magic in the seven games they have played this season. The Magic have only themselves to blame for being down 2-1 in this series because they had a very poor defensive effort in the first half. Known as a strong defensive team the Magic did not play with the intensity and toughness necessary to win Game 3. The Magic allowed the Hawks to shoot 54.8 % from the field and build a 14 point second quarter lead. The Magic played an inspired second half defensively but due to their mediocre effort in the first half they lost a one possession game. The Magic are smart enough to understand what is needed to win on the road in the playoffs, and it is frustrating to see their team perform like they did last night. The Magic must come out with a much better effort for 48 minutes in Game 4, in order to tie this series up 2-2.
Game 4 will be played without Jason Richardson for Orlando and Zaza Pachulia for Atlanta. They were suspended for an altercation late in Game 3 when Pachulia head butted Richardson and Richardson retaliated with an open slap to Pachulia’s head. It will be interesting to see which suspension hurts the most. Will the Magic be affected without the perimeter play of Richardson? Or will the Hawks suffer because of their lack of depth at center? The Hawks have utilized Pachulia to defend Dwight Howard with Jason Collins and they need his defense and fouls to win this series.
Game 4 Adjustments:
Plain and simple the Magic need to defend in Game 4. They need to defend for 48 minutes. If they do that they will be okay. They held the Hawks to only 37 points in the second half after they had allowed 51 points in the first half. The Magic must quickly improve their ability to cover Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Those two perimeter players for Atlanta have been the difference in this series. Joe Johnson scored 21 points in Game 3 while Jamal Crawford had 23 points. Crawford scored 12 of his teams 23 points in the 4th quarter and he scored 18 of his teams 37 second half points. The Magic have struggled all series to put the clamps down on these two guards. Somehow, someway the Magic must slow these two players down.
Dwight Howard has been a monster offensively and defensively in this series. When he is on the court the Magic have a chance, when he is on the bench the Magic struggle. Stan Van Gundy has been forced to play Howard way too many minutes, but a tired Howard is better than any other Magic option. In order for the Magic to win Game 4 the Magic will need their complimentary players to step up and contribute offensively. Jameer Nelson (15-50), Jason Richardson (9-30) and Hedo Turkoglu (9-36) have all struggled versus the Hawks to provide consistent scoring. They need someone to pick up the slack and help Howard put points on the board. Turkoglu has been especially disappointing in this series. He will not shoot open shots, instead passing them up to eventually take tougher shots. Stan Van Gundy described his shot when the Magic were down 1 point with 31 seconds to go in the game as a “horrible shot”. He had plenty of time on the shot clock and should have put the ball on the floor and driven the bigger and slower Al Horford. But this is just a microcosm of how Turkoglu has been playing the entire series. His offensive decision making has been extremely poor. The Magic need him to step up in Game 4.
The Atlanta Hawks are very lucky that they won Game 3. Their offensive execution in the second half almost cost them the game. The Hawks are a very inconsistent, stubborn basketball team. They are a tremendously talented, athletic offensive team but they do not have the mental discipline required to make a deep run in the playoffs. They are talented enough to win games in the playoffs but too many times they revert back to who they are. And when they do that they get themselves in trouble. Too many times they revert back to 1-1, isolation basketball. They refuse to move the ball from side to side and they become stagnant. When they revert do they settle for contested perimeter jump shots. In Game 4 the Hawks must not revert back to going 1-1, taking poor shots and having multiple poor possessions. If they continuously take jump shot after jump shot they will lose Game 4. If they decide to move the ball, drive the ball and attack and not settle for jump shots they will give themselves the best chance of winning.
Prediction: Magic win Game 4