In a series where Orlando trailed most of the way and trailed in every game most of the way, you had a feeling you knew how it would end. With Jamal Crawford hoisting a wild three or Joe Johnson hoisting a smooth floater to end it. The Magic had no answer for that late in games.
Maybe you didn’t expect it to end this way. Not with J.J. Redick staring a down a wide open space in front of him and a clear look at the basket thanks to a Dwight Howard screen. Orlando had seen open looks from three all series and been unable to make it. But like good shooters, they continued to believe the next one would fall.
Now there are no next shots. Redick’s 3-pointer missed. Orlando got one more chance and saw Jason Richardson‘s last-second heave miss on a block. The streamers came down from the roof of Philips Arena and the Atlanta faithful for the third straight year will welcome the Eastern Conference Semifinals to their building. Orlando, for the first time since 2007 and the first time in Stan Van Gundy‘s career, are heading home in the first round.
Atlanta played with the energy that comes from what might as well be a game seven for them in an 84-81 series-clinching win in Game Six on Thursday.
Orlando showed a ton of fight, but were just a little slower to loose balls and rebounds for most of the game. Atlanta had the passion and energy to win this one from start to finish. The Hawks had 14 offensive rebounds, making up for a 39.2 percent shooting night. The Hawks did damage on the glass and were faster to the paint and to loose balls.
It showed when Orlando cut the lead to one and got a stop when Marvin Williams missed an open three. But the Hawks got to the ball first and tipped it out to Jamal Crawford with 11 seconds left. The Magic were forced to foul and see the lead go up to three. The strategy changes between a one-point game and a three-point game.
Those little plays proved to be the difference throughout this game and throughout this series.
In a best-of-seven series, the team that can do these little things the most will win. The team that executes the best and plays with composure will win. Orlando really never had these things all series and for a good portion of Game Six did not either.
The Magic came out a little tight. They were able to make shots but turned the ball over at an extremely high rate, committing five in the first quarter alone. Atlanta fed off the energy of the crowd and it propelled the team to the lead. The Hawks are a team that gains confidence with a lead, as Stan Van Gundy noted post game, and it snowballed for them all series.
The Hawks had an answer for every Magic run. When it seemed like Orlando would go on a scoring run, Jamal Crawford would make a big shot. His 3-pointer, off a Zaza Pachulia offensive rebound no less, gave the Hawks a six-point lead. The Ryan Anderson foul and technical foul gave the Hawks an eight-point lead on a rare five-point play.
In an elimination game like this a play like that has a major impact. The Magic were fighting back from a 6-10 point deficit all game long. Atlanta established its lad on this play.
The Magic struggled to come back all night. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford were no longer settling for mid-range jump shots and looked to attack. They pulled Dwight Howard out of position to open up weakside offensive rebounders. Again, this was not that particular players were not playing hard, they just were not directing their energy in the right place. The Hawks got to the offensive glass faster. Joe Johnson had seven offensive rebounds. A guard crashed the glass hard and often did not have to see Dwight Howard there to challenge him.
Orlando did a good job correcting this in the second half as Gilbert Arenas and Ryan Anderson added support to secure the glass and Dwight Howard really did his thing (15 rebounds, five offensive). But the Hawks continued to fight off the Magic with big shot after big shot.
Atlanta took a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter simply by making shots and doing what Orlando often does to its opponents. Dwight Howard was dominant early in the fourth quarter, working the pick and roll beautifully with Gilbert Arenas but the Hawks were making threes. Crawford (19 points, 3-for-10 3-point shooting) and Marvin Williams (10 points, 2-for-3 3-point shooting) drained threes early in the fourth quarter that seemed to bury Orlando.
The Magic had one more run in them. They had to fight through the frustration of wild and poorly officiated third quarter. Howard attacked the basket and scored a game-high 25 points. It freed up Ryan Anderson for three and he started attacking the offensive glass. Anderson finished with five points and four rebounds, but they all came during an 8-0 run that brought the Magic back into the game.
From there it became about execution.
And ultimately this is where Orlando’s season came to a screeching halt. Joe Johnson was able to stand at the top of the key and dribble down the shot clock before making a quick dribble move and getting to the basket, finishing with a reverse layup at the rim. Who on Orlando can do that?
Jameer Nelson sure tried. He scored four straight points with 90 seconds left to make it a one-point game. But Atlanta, which in the past may have crumbled and given up the lead, showed its growth once again and held on to the lead. Finding that one little play — an offensive rebound tip out to Jamal Crawford — to put the game out of reach.
J.J. Redick stared down that three with the season on his shoulders and took a good look. Orlando had fought as hard as it could (or maybe not) but it was not enough.
The Magic ran out of chances and played with fire too long.
Photos via DayLife.com.