Isolations have defined the series through two games. Atlanta is a team that relies on the one-on-one play of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford to open up the offense and relies heavily on mid-range jumpers. The criticism of the Hawks offense for much of the last three years is how unimaginative it is and how much it relies on the inefficiency of solo play.
The defense is tailored to force the opponent to play one on one too. The Hawks were famous for switching on every screen and making teams go away from pick and roll offense and work on isolations — even if it sometimes meant giving up a big matchup advantage.
In this sense, Orlando has played right into Atlanta’s hands through the first two games of the series.
Dwight Howard has gone for big games as the Hawks stubbornly refuse to double team him. Howard is averaging 39.5 points per game and 19.0 rebounds per game through the first two games, posting a 32.2 percent usage rate. Jameer Nelson has had some pretty big games too, averaging 20.0 points per game and a quite surprising 7.0 rebounds per game with a 24.3 percent usage rate.
You can see even with Howard and Nelson having big games, those two players are using about half of the Magic’s possessions in the first two games. Howard’s number is about where you want it. He is the star, he is going to score. If he can bring down the turnover number, even better for the Magic. Nelson has had to use that many possessions though because the Magic have struggled to get others going.
To me, the combination of these numbers means the Magic are still struggling to get everyone involved in the offense. Throw in the fact Orlando has just 24 assists on two games and you can see the Hawks have forced the Magic into an isolation game and the ball is not moving.
This is a major problem, especially when teams single coverage Howard. After Game One, it was repeatedly stressed the Magic cannot affort to stand around and watch Howard go to work in the post. Similarly the team cannot rely on having Jameer Nelson simply attack the basket. Yes, defenses are better in the Playoffs, but ball movement is a key to Orlando’s offense, and to opening up the three-point shot — something the Magic have failed to do in going 11 for 45 from beyond the arc.
One-on-one basketball does not make the defense work. It allows many of the players to stand around and watch (much like the offensive players are) and collapse in once the one-on-one driver gets stuck.
For the rest of this series, the Magic have to make the Hawks defense work and rotate. They cannot allow the Hawks the ability to rest on defense and stand around, looking to double down, dig out the ball or shoot into passing lanes. Even if Stan Van Gundy has to manufacture these decisions to make the Hawks work.
This is where the pick and roll, the staple of Orlando’s offense must really come into play. The Magic have noticeably (and I have not found the numbers on this) abandoned the pick and roll in this series. Howard’s fantastic play has had some to do with this, so has Orlando’s poor shooting. But this should not take away from the inherent advantages Orlando has when running this play.
If the Hawks will not double team Howard and allow the 3-point shooters to get open, then the Magic should try to force the Hawks to double somebody. The pick and roll is a good way to do this. You get Nelson or Turkoglu coming off a high screen and roll with Howard and it forces Atlanta into a number of decisions.
The first decisions is what to do with the man with the ball. Do you switch? How far do you hedge? Do I go over or under the screen? This is one way to open things up already. Then you get into the decision of what to do with the roll man. Everyone knows Howard is going to roll hard to the basket, but the big man has to decide whether to stay with Howard and risk giving up an open lane or hedge and hope to recover without giving up really bad position.
One wrong decision and Orlando gets free in the paint with a great opportunity to score.
These are the kinds of decisions the Magic must force the Hawks to make in Game Three. I would like to see the team run more pick and rolls. When they did in Game Two, the Magic were extremely successful, getting to the basket, getting the ball to Howard and even getting good looks from the 3-point line.
Turnovers might be why Van Gundy has not completely embraced going to the pick and roll. But this is not a play the Magic should abandon. It is incredibly vital to what Orlando can do against single coverage on Howard.
Photos via DayLife.com.