Quantcast 2011 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs: Round One - Orlando vs Atlanta

 

2011 NBA Playoff Preview – Eastern Conference First Round

Eastern Conference First Round Game 6 - Atlanta 84, Orlando 81 – Hawks win series, 4-2

 

 

Oh what a difference a year makes. Just a calendar year from being swept out of the first round by an average of 25 points per game, the Atlanta Hawks enacted revenge on the Orlando Magic, finishing them off in six games to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs.

The Hawks built a double-digit fourth quarter and held off a furious, late Orlando rally to secure a matchup with top-seeded Chicago in the Eastern Conference semifinals. With the Hawks leading 80-77 with under two minutes to play, Atlanta’s Joe Johnson pushed the lead to five with a layup. The Magic got as close as 82-81 with 34 seconds left after a driving layup from Jameer Nelson. Then came the game’s defining sequence. The Hawks’ Marvin Williams missed a 20-foot jumper from the left wing. Williams was wide open on the play, meaning that Orlando’s defense wasn’t overextended on the flanks. The Magic had four bodies in or near the painted area. When Williams’ shot caromed off the back rim, an Orlando player should have been able to snare the rebound. However, Jason Richardson – acquired by the team in midseason as part of a blockbuster trade with the Phoenix Suns – simply whiffed on the rebound opportunity. The ball squirted through Richardson’s hands, and the Hawks got the offensive rebound with under 15 seconds to go. With the shot clock off, Orlando had to foul; that lost rebound was so important in the larger context of the game because it denied the Magic the ability to play straight-up defense and get a stop. Richardson’s profound failure basically handed two points to the Hawks, as Atlanta’s Jamal Crawford – the player the Magic had to foul with the clock ticking down - nailed two free throws to make the score 84-81 with eight seconds left. The Magic were able to get two last second heaves from J.J. Redick and Jason Richardson to tie the contest and extend Orlando’s series. Neither of them were successful, however; it was a fitting end to a series in which the Magic couldn’t hit the side of a barn from three-point range.

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Crawford was the man of the series. The bench-scoring phenom scored near 20 points in each of the Hawks’ victories. On Thursday, he scored 19 points and provided yet another spark off the bench. Joe Johnson added 23 points and 10 rebounds for the victorious Hawks, who showed all of the grit and resilience that was missing in the four-game sweep they endured at the hands of the Magic 12 months ago.

 

 

While Orlando’s season ended prematurely, it wasn’t on account of Dwight Howard’s ineffectiveness. The superstar center had 25 points and 15 rebounds, playing all 48 minutes in a do-or-die elimination game. His teammates were just 5-of-19 beyond the arc and couldn’t get defensive stops in key situations. The NBA will wonder if Howard’s days in Orlando are done; the same thing goes for coach Stan Van Gundy, whose trip to the 2009 NBA Finals is looking more and more like an aberration with the passage of time.

The Hawks, tougher and more determined than in past seasons, will now face the Chicago Bulls. Atlanta needs defensive stopper Kirk Hinrich on the floor, but a late-game injury suffered by Hinrich in Game 6 could very well limit his availability or his effectiveness for the Eastern Conference semifinals.

 

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By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer


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