Cohen: Further Review - Part 1
By Josh Cohen
December 1, 2011
ORLANDO -- While it may be difficult to evoke every instant and every coil from the Orlando Magic’s heartbreaking and unanticipated defeat to the Atlanta Hawks in last year’s playoffs, it’s imperative to review what emerged over those action-crammed six games.
Evaluating every moment is essential to copiously comprehend what failed and what requires further development.
Over the last few months, I have repeatedly watched each of the six games. From a staggering Game 1 defeat in spite of Dwight Howard’s superlative performance to some nerve-racking pressure-packed games in Atlanta to a spine-tingling series conclusion, Orlando’s abridged postseason journey taught us a great deal.
After an NBA Finals berth in 2009 and a return to the conference finals a year later, it was no surprise that championship aspirations remained optimal in Orlando last season.
Howard’s augmented all-around game and a startling midseason trade that delivered Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and fan favorite Hedo Turkoglu boosted the spirit around Magic Kingdom.
After the two blockbuster trades in late December, Orlando accrued nine consecutive victories. A noticeable upgrade following two generally inconsistent months prior, the deal had seemingly launched the Magic next to the East’s other elite.
Shortly after, however, all of this rapid zest and humbling success suddenly declined. While Howard’s play continued to soar and in spite of several spectacular moments, including an unfathomable victory over the 76ers (two four-point plays) and sizzling finish against the Nuggets (Jameer Nelson’s game-winning 3-pointer), Orlando’s unpredictability created some doubt heading into the playoffs.
A year earlier, the Magic whitewashed the Hawks. No match for Howard, no challenge to Orlando’s lethal perimeter shooting and no competition for the Magic’s multifaceted bench, Atlanta had simply no prayer against its Southeast Division adversaries in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semis.
Largely because the Hawks had won the regular season series against the Magic, 3-1, and as a result of Jason Collins’ persistence against D12, some gave Atlanta a fighters chance against Orlando before the two rivals collided in the opening round of the postseason.
It was very evident, moreover, after the opening tipoff of Game 1 that this series would be a significant contrast from 2010.
In spite of a Herculean performance from Howard, who erupted for a Magic playoff franchise record 46 points, Orlando’s stride lagged behind Atlanta’s.
Both Joe Johnson (25 points) and Jamal Crawford (23 points) were outstanding offensively and Al Horford and Josh Smith limited the Magic’s forwards to six total points.
Despite the defeat, one couldn’t help but marvel at Howard’s dominance. Unrelenting in his attack, it became conspicuous that Dwight was evolving into an all-time great in spite of his young age.
There was a very ominous edginess spread across Central Florida prior to Game 2. From the expectation that Orlando would tower over its division adversary to plenty of ambiguity about the direction of this series, there was a drastic amendment in this series after Game 1’s stunning loss.
With pressure mounting in Orlando and with the Hawks’ confidence high ceilinged, Game 2 would reveal the Magic’s fortitude.
Though it was a jagged start (Magic trailed by nine early in the second quarter), Orlando finally discovered its rhythm. It started with a splendid hustle play by J.J. Redick that led to a Nelson layup and it eventually evolved into a stifling defensive effort.
In distinction from Game 1, Johnson faltered in Game 2 (14 points on 6-of-15 shooting) and the Hawks collectively shot just 39 percent from the floor.
Like Game 1, on the other hand, Howard was again governing – racking up 33 points and grabbing 19 rebounds to propel the Magic to a Game 2 win. Perhaps most impressive, however, was the fact that the Defensive Player of the Year never rested.
“I just didn’t want to give them a chance to win,” Howard said after playing the full 48 minutes. “I trust my teammates. I just felt like I needed to be on the floor.”
Mixed attitudes proliferated throughout both sides as the scene shifted to A-Town.
On one hand, the Hawks stole the home court advantage and showed Orlando that what transpired in 2010 was an aberration. On the other hand, the Magic regained some momentum in this series following a resolute Game 2 win.
Many figured Game 3 to be the “tilt” game. It was generally ambiguous in Orlando who was more steadfast and the outcome of a crucial Game 3 would infuse self-reliance to the victor.
A back-and-forth tussle through three quarters, it would come down to a tumultuous fourth period to decide the winner.
After a heated scuffle resulted in the ejections of Orlando’s Jason Richardson and Atlanta’s Zaza Pachulia, the final two minutes of this Game 3 thriller created abrupt sentimental changes.
Nelson drilled a go-ahead pull-up jumper with 1:35 remaining and Brandon Bass buried an 18-footer with a minute left to keep Orlando ahead. Horford, however, countered for the Hawks with a jumper of his own to put Atlanta back in front.
In what became a turbulent chess match, the final move would spell disaster for the Magic.
Despite determined defense by Nelson, Crawford, who is prominent for off-balanced long distance shots, banked in an implausible 3-pointer from about 26 feet out with five ticks left to secure a Hawks win.
“I didn’t call bank. I think the bank’s closed right now,” Crawford said afterwards. “I just tried to find my comfort zone, my sweet spot.”
After three games of this series, what was most on your mind?
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