Denton: Magic-Hawks Game 1 Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
April 16, 2011

ORLANDO – In the days leading up to Saturday’s Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic installed placards on each player’s dressing stall that featured a picture of the NBA’s Larry O’Brien championship trophy and the word ``BELIEVE’’ in bold, block letters.

After the double-whammy that Orlando was hit with on Saturday – getting repeatedly gashed defensively and looking stagnant offensively outside of the play from captains Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson – the Magic likely had a hard time believing their shaky plight so early in these playoffs.

Five Atlanta players scored in double figures and the Hawks shockingly shot 73 percent in the second and third quarters to stun the Magic 103-93 at the Amway Center despite a slew of franchise playoff records set by Howard and Nelson.

Not even 46 points from Howard – tying the franchise record for most points scored in a playoff game – and Nelson scoring 20 of his 27 points in the third quarter – another franchise mark – could help the fourth-seeded Magic avoid the humiliation of losing to a Hawks franchise that it swept by 101 points in four games last spring. To make matters even worse, fifth-seeded Atlanta entered the playoffs riding an unsightly six-game losing streak.

``In those middle two quarters we had no answer for them in terms of stopping them,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``We couldn’t really play anything that they did. We had trouble with their post-ups, one-on-one we had trouble with their perimeter guys breaking us down on the dribble and we struggled with their pick-and-rolls. … Pretty much the entire game we didn’t have any defensive answers.’’

The Magic mostly shrugged at the Hawks winning three of four meetings during the regular season, but another defeat has them now searching for answers. One of the league’s best defensive teams all season, the Magic couldn’t stop Joe Johnson (25 points), Jamal Crawford (23 points) or a Hawks team that shot 51.4 percent. It was an odd twist after the four regular-season games were played mostly in the 80s, but this one featured an Atlanta team that didn’t miss for long stretches of the game.

``I think that we have to make it tougher on their guys than we did tonight,’’ Nelson said. ``They played a great game and executed well. They created open shots. … They outplayed us, first of all. They did a good job of executing, doing what they wanted. We just have to come out with a better mindset in terms of stopping people.’’

Now, for a bit of perspective: The Magic lost the first game of the playoffs to the Philadelphia 76ers in 2009, the season that they ultimately advanced to the NBA Finals. But that game came on a last-second game-winner by Andre Iguodala, where as in this one the Hawks took the lead midway through the second period, pushed it up to as much as 18 points and never flinched down the stretch.

``It’s frustrating that we lost, but it’s the first game,’’ a perturbed Howard said. ``We’ll come back in the second game with a better effort.’’

Here’s a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from Saturday’s Game 1: