NBA Playoffs: Magic decimate Hawks again, get second straight sweep
Well, that’s it for the Hawks. After yet another blowout, the Orlando Magic are advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals while the Hawks are going home. The Hawks were completely overwhelmed by the Magic, who never trailed in game four and maintained a double-digit lead for nearly the entire second half. After being considered the forgotten contender in the East all season, the Hawks played like it in the playoffs, going 4-7 in the postseason. They lost the series by a combined total of 101 points; according to Michael Cunningham, that’s an NBA record for a four-game sweep. This is the second year in a row the Hawks were swept in the second round. Meanwhile, the Magic improve to 8-0 in the postseason, and now have a nice long rest before the conference finals.
Once again, it was the Magic’s defense and three-point shooting that overwhelmed the Hawks. Dwight Howard was relatively quiet in game four, scoring 13 points on 5-5 shooting from the field but committing seven turnovers in the process. The rest of the Magic players were more than willing to pick up the slack for him. The Magic put the Hawks away by shooting 16-37 from the arc, with Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, and Mickael Pietrus hitting four threes apiece. The Hawks shot 3-12 from beyond the arc -- that’s a 39-point advantage on threes for the Magic.
Nobody really stepped up for the Hawks. Jamal Crawford was again the bright spot. Even though he struggled with his shot, Crawford was able to get to the line consistently, leading the Hawks with 18 points off the bench. The Hawks were outscored by 11 points during the eight minutes Crawford sat. Mike Bibby was again horrendous; the Hawks were outscored by 16 points during his 11 minutes of play, and it’s clear he shouldn’t be playing against any team with a good point guard at this point of his career. Joe Johnson went 5-15 from the floor; he may have cost himself a lot of money in this series. Josh Smith was inconsistent, and Marvin Williams continued to be completely invisible.
For the Magic, it was all good news. Vince Carter led the way with 22 points, and the Magic have to be encouraged by his play going into the conference finals. Rashard Lewis had 17 on only 10 shots and one free throw attempt, while Jameer Nelson set the pace with 16 points and a game-high nine assists.
The Magic have to feel good after the first two series. To beat them, a team is going to have to penetrate their defense, shut down Howard inside, and keep their shooters from getting hot. In eight games, no team has been able to do all of those things successfully.
The one caveat for them going forward is that Howard will be facing either Kendrick Perkins or Shaquille O’Neal down low in the conference finals, both of whom provide a much more formidable challenge than Al Horford or Zaza Pachulia did in this series. If Howard plays like he did against Charlotte, The Celtics or Cavaliers could muster up enough offense to send the Magic home. If Howard can be effective in the post and stay out of foul trouble, the Magic have to be the overwhelming favorites to come out of the East again this season, and have a very good chance of winning the first championship in Magic history. The Magic are only halfway to their goal, but they sure do look like a juggernaut at the moment.