Well, so much for Atlanta turning into a completely different team on their home floor. The Hawks were 19-22 on the road this season and 34-7 at home, so it wasn’t completely unreasonable to expect them to be more competitive on Saturday than they were in the first two games of the series. Unfortunately for Atlanta, they looked just as outmatched in Atlanta as they did in Orlando.
The Magic pushed the lead to double-digits near the end of the first quarter. They took a 20-point lead at the beginning of the third quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter, Orlando found themselves up by 30. The Hawks never had a chance in game three, and now they’re in a 3-0 series hole.
Nothing went right for the Hawks. The team shot 35% from the field and 4-15 from beyond the arc. No Hawks player shot better than 50% from the field. Joe Johnson was absolutely abysmal, going 3-15 from the field. The Hawks recorded nine total assists all game. The Magic outrebounded the Hawks 51-34. Faced with the pressure of a 2-0 deficit and the task of scoring against the Magic’s dominant defense, Atlanta completely folded. A miserable performance, and one that could leave a sour taste in Hawks fans’ mouths all summer if they don’t manage to compete in game four.
Nobody on the Magic had a great offensive game; then again, nobody needed to. Howard wasn’t as dominant as he was in game two, but still finished with 21 and 16 on 6-8 shooting from the field and 9-18 shooting from the line. Rashard Lewis led the Magic with 22 points. Mickael Pietrus came off the bench and drained three three-pointers. Carter and Nelson both had quiet nights by their standards, but it didn’t matter.
The question for the Hawks is what happens next. They’ve been competitive in the regular season, but they’re a game away from being swept out of the postseason two years in a row. After all these years, the team still does not have a true point guard, and the lack of ball movement is killing them. They don’t have the size or perimeter defenders to defend like the top three teams in the East do. I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen, but the Hawks will almost certainly look like a different team next season.
Joe Johnson is looking like the booby prize in the 2010 free agency bonanza right now, but someone will end up paying him. At this point, it may not be a great tragedy for the Hawks if he leaves — he wasn’t going to get the Hawks where they wanted to go as a #1 option, and the Hawks don’t have the ability to get a player good enough to let Johnson operate as a #2 option.
(Quick addendum — Hawks reporter Michael Cunningham just tweeted that Joe Johnson had this to say about the Hawks fans booing the team: ”It’s about us in this locker room. We could care less if they showed up or not.” I don’t think Mr. Johnson is long for Atlanta.)
For the Magic, everything looks good right now — all that’s left for them to do is close out the Hawks, go home, and prepare for the Eastern Conference Finals. They look like the best team in the NBA at the moment, but they still have nine wins to go before they reach their ultimate goal. The way they’re playing, it’ll be very tough for anyone to stop Orlando from getting those nine wins.