Denton: Series Shifts to Atlanta For Intriguing Game 3

By John Denton
April 21, 2011


ATLANTA – The Orlando Magic have spent the better part of the last eight months together, either practicing, playing or working out almost every day since the voluntary sessions began in September.

But still, even to this day, the players and coaches are learning things about one another and the makeup of this team. There was no greater teaching moment than Tuesday’s Game 2 when the Magic started poorly, trailed by as many as 10 points, struggled to make shots and ever so briefly seemed to be staring at a 0-2 hole.

But it’s the way they responded – with J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson diving on the floor for loose balls, with Dwight Howard playing 48 minutes of dominant basketball, with Ryan Anderson giving up his body to take a charge and with Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson shrugging off poor games to make clutch plays late – that spoke volumes about the character of this Magic team.

``I think it showed everybody the heart we have and that we’re a relentless team,’’ said Anderson, who made two 3-pointers and defended Atlanta’s Al Horford well. ``We’re not a team that’s ever going to fold and it’s not the end of the world if we’re missing shots. We have a saying on the back of (practice) shirts about energy being contagious. You see a guy diving on the floor it makes everybody want to do it and play that much harder.’’

The challenge now, of course, is for the Magic to summon the same sort of desperation and hustling style of play as they head to Atlanta for Friday’s Game 3 at Philips Arena. The best-of-seven series is tied at 1-all after the Hawks won Game 1 103-93 and the Magic rallied for an 88-82 victory in Game 2.

Sensing their playoff lives were on the line, the Magic scratched and clawed and put as much into Tuesday’s Game 2 as they have all season. And certainly nothing came easy as the Magic had to overcome the second-quarter deficit, battled through a miserable 34 percent shooting night and had to deliver at the end after almost allowing a 12-point lead to slip away. But ultimately too much muscle from Howard and too much hustle from others helped Orlando to get even in the series.

``We had so many hustle plays, a lot of offensive rebounds, two plays where guys dived on the floor, Ryan sliding over to take charges and really good five and six-effort plays on the defensive end,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``And we needed every bit of that to win a home game by six points. It wasn’t easy and we know that nothing is going to come easy in this series.’’

Offensive efficiency, outside of the historic play of Howard, certainly hasn’t come easy for the Magic in the first two games. The Magic are shooting just 39.9 percent as a team and the Hawks have effectively taken away the 3-point game as they have hit only 11 of 45 attempts beyond the arc (24.4 percent).

Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson (20 ppg.) is shooting a respectable 42.4 percent, but Turkoglu (8 ppg., 24 percent), Richardson (6 ppg., 25 percent) and Redick (5 ppg., 25 percent) are struggling mightily against Atlanta’s lengthy and much-improved defense. Van Gundy said the Magic worked on some offensive tweaks in practice on Thursday, but mainly the hope is that the shots missed so far will start falling in Atlanta.

``We’re going to run some things differently, but for the most part we are who we are and that’s who we’re going to continue to be in this series,’’ Van Gundy said. ``It’s not like we’re going to start running the Princeton offense. We just need some shots to fall.’’

Van Gundy’s major change might be to use Chris Duhon and Turkoglu at times as the backup point guard instead of the struggling Gilbert Arenas. He also expects Richardson to keep shooting even though the shooting guard claimed that ``this might not be my series to play on the offensive end’’ because of his defensive responsibilities covering Joe Johnson. Van Gundy said he ``didn’t like those comments’’ and has stressed to Richardson that the Magic are going to need his scoring and 3-point shooting to win this series.

Van Gundy pointed to the Magic’s efficiency with Redick on the court even though the reserve guard hasn’t been able to find a rhythm on his jump shot. That was almost to be expected after Redick missed the last five weeks and 17 games of the regular season because of a lower abdominal strain.

Despite Redick’s shooting woes, the Magic have outscored the Hawks by 14 points in his time on the court in Game 1 and by 10 points in his 19 minutes of playing in Game 2. One way Redick contributed was by diving on the floor on Tuesday night to beat Kirk Hinrich to a loose ball. Redick shuffled the ball to Nelson for a layup during a game-turning 12-2 run after the Magic had fallen down by 10 points.

``Our offense is just scoring at a higher rate with him on the floor,’’ Van Gundy said of Redick. ``He’s not doing a lot with his shot, but offensively we’re just playing at a high level when he’s on the floor. I don’t always put everything into (the plus-minus statistic), but J.J. just knows how to play, how to keep the ball moving and how to space the floor and that helps our offense.’’

No one helped the Magic offense or put more into Tuesday’s game physically than Howard, who became just the third player in Magic history to play all 48 minutes in a regulation playoff game. Fresh off a 46-point, 19-rebound effort in Game 1, Howard battered Atlanta for another 33 points and 19 rebounds in Game 2. He never asked out of the game because he knew the importance of him staying on the floor. Howard said that there are no concerns that he can keep up this pace for an entire series.

``The way we were raised as kids was to never show weakness or pain. I might be tired out there, but I just have to keep going,’’ said Howard, the leading scorer (39.5 ppg.) and rebounder (19 rpg.) in all the playoffs so far. ``It’s win or go home right now, so I have to keep it up.’’

Anderson said after his Magic played with a great sense of desperation in Game 2 the goal now is to put the Hawks on their heels in front of their home crowd. He knows that Atlanta will try and respond the Magic will have to match the intensity on the road.

``Homecourt advantage is a big advantage in the playoffs, but we think it’s fun playing in front of big crowds,’’ Anderson said. ``It’s fun to go out there and shut a crowd up. We did that last year in Atlanta. We want to treat this like just another game and do it again.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.