at Orlando 114, Atlanta 71 (Orlando leads series 1-0)
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 126.9, Atlanta 77.9
It was clear that if the Atlanta Hawks did not pick up their play from where it was during a seven-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks, they would be in trouble facing the Orlando Magic in an Eastern Conference Semifinal series. As it turned out, that was a massive understatement, at least in Game One. The Hawks were outscored by such a lopsided margin in the second and third quarters that it looks like a misprint--60 to 21. The final tally wasn't much better as Atlanta lost by 43 points.
The Hawks' problems started in the middle, where Dwight Howard was liberated from his foul-trouble issues against Charlotte and crushed fellow All-Star Al Horford. Howard scored 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting and entirely shut down Horford at the other end of the floor. The Atlanta center missed six of his seven shot attempts and had just four points in 22 minutes.
Horford was downright hot compared to teammate Jamal Crawford, who couldn't supply his usual spark off the bench. Crawford shot 1-of-11 from the field and had five points. The Hawks were outscored by 35 points during his 34 minutes of play. Orlando also did a terrific job defending Joe Johnson, who had a quiet 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting, missed all four of his three-point attempts and turned the ball over five times.
At the other end, the Magic was effective with balance. Jameer Nelson picked up where he left off against the Bobcats, making five of his six shot attempts in the paint and handing out five assists. Vince Carter added 20 points on decent efficiency, and the bench provided the rest of the scoring punch. Four reserves scored at least six points, led by 10 from J.J. Redick. Marcin Gortat was especially energetic, totaling nine points and six rebounds in 19 minutes.
Here's the good news for Atlanta: No matter how lopsided this game was, it only counts as one loss. Besides that, there's not really any other positives the Hawks can take from what transpired (with apologies to Zaza Pachulia, whose 12 points and seven rebounds earned him a spot on the dais postgame). Nothing they did worked on either end, and it's hard to see how a strategic tweak or two is going to change things. The Hawks need to find again what worked for them throughout the regular season. Even if they do that, however, it may not be enough because this matchup is so favorable for Orlando.
at L.A. Lakers 111, Utah 103 (L.A. Lakers lead series 2-0)
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Lakers 119.4, Utah 108.0
In a game that was positively eerie in its similarity to Game One, the Los Angeles Lakers built an early lead, saw the Utah Jazz rally midway through the fourth quarter and then made enough plays down the stretch to secure a victory.
First, let's talk about what the Lakers did well, a list that starts with the frontcourt. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum (showing no ill effects of his meniscus injury) and Lamar Odom did pretty much whatever they wanted against Utah's smaller frontline. The three players all had double-doubles with at least 14 rebounds, combining for 43 boards (more than the Jazz had as a team), 50 points on near-perfect 18-of-24 shooting from the field and nine blocked shots.
Confronted with a more talented set of opposing bigs, Kyrylo Fesenko has been unable to maintain his inspired play against Denver in this series. Fesenko missed six of his seven shot attempts, all of them around the rim. Add in 0-of-4 foul shooting and Fesenko scored two points on nine shooting possessions, chipping in four fouls in 17 minutes for good measure. Kosta Koufos was marginally better, but he played just seven minutes. Without either of the team's remaining 7-footers contributing anything, there's really not a whole lot Utah can do, especially on the defensive glass. Andrei Kirilenko will help the Jazz's defense, but he's not going to be boxing out Bynum and Gasol.
Besides, Kirilenko may still be needed elsewhere, because Utah has yet to find an answer for Kobe Bryant. A playmaker in the first half, Bryant became a scorer late and finished with 30 points and eight assists. Again, his shooting efficiency was solid. Playing in the mid-post much of the time, Bryant attempted just one three-pointer and got to the free throw line 11 times. Bryant wasn't perfect down the stretch, turning the ball over in the final minute and missing a couple of attempts, but his scores and especially his ability to draw fouls on C.J. Miles was a major factor in holding the Jazz at bay down the stretch.
Bryant's deference in the first half was part of strong ball movement that translated into 26 assists on 40 field goals, a ratio that was once commonplace for the Lakers but is worth celebrating at this point.
So how come this was a four-point game at times during the fourth quarter? Even in a strong offensive performance, the Lakers were bit by their inability to knock down outside shots. Utah conceded open three-pointers to Ron Artest and watched him go 1-of-7 beyond the arc, while the Lakers shot 4-of-17 from downtown as a team. Turnovers were also a major issue. Bryant had seven of them and Gasol six as the Lakers gave the ball up on more than one in six plays.
Credit also goes to Paul Millsap, who was omnipresent off the bench. Millsap may not have been able to keep the Lakers' bigs off the offensive glass, but neither could they contain his energy at the other end of the floor. Eight of Millsap's 11 rebounds were offensive, and he scored 26 points on 8-of-17 shooting, handed out four assists and racked up three steals in an impressive all-around effort.
Despite the team scoring at an average rate, Millsap was really the only Jazz player who had it going on offense. Deron Williams was quiet, shooting 4-of-16 from the field, and Carlos Boozer (9-of-21) continues to have trouble with the Lakers' length. Eight three-pointers in 19 attempts, four of them by Wesley Matthews, helped keep the Utah offense afloat.
Given the way the Lakers have toyed with the Jazz in the first two games of the series and been able to make plays when needed, conventional wisdom is that Utah is basically finished. I'd like to see how things look with Kirilenko in the lineup--much more likely to happen in Game Three after three days off--before reaching that conclusion. The Jazz will also likely look like a different team when backed by a terrific home crowd. Utah's inability to match the Lakers' size and strength might ultimately do the team in, but that doesn't mean the Jazz won't make things interesting between now and then.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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