Nelson Over Bibby Big Factor in Rout
By late in the third quarter, both were on their respective sideline, but all similarities started and ended right there.
It's why this best-of-seven, second-round matchup isn't going to take very long.
Atlanta's Mike Bibby had buried his head under a towel, peeking out only once in awhile to view the wreckage. On the other side, Orlando's Jameer Nelson was waving his towel wildly, up on his feet every few seconds.
"I just wanted to attack, and keep attacking,'' Nelson said after the Magic buried the Hawks, 114-71, in a game that was even more lopsided than the score. "We're in this for the long haul, so you have to keep attacking.''
Nelson had 19 points -- hit 5 of 8 shots -- and five rebounds in his 25 minutes, orchestrating the Magic offense to perfection. After missing the Magic's playoff run to the Finals last season, he is hungrier now than he ever has been in his career.
Bibby, conversely, made only one of his five shots. He had two points and three assists in his 20 minutes, hardly factoring in the blowout and unable to get his team on track.
"They embarrassed us, but I don't think we broke down. We just didn't make shots,'' said Bibby, sounding unaware of how badly his offense looked. "It's one game, and you have to win four. This one is already behind us.''
Bibby, 31, was considered so vital this season to the Hawks' chances -- they had no other point guard -- that they rewarded him with a new three-year, $18 million contract extension, but he has turned into one of the Hawks' weaknesses.
His inability to guard Nelson hurts the Hawks defensively, forcing them to use Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford for the job. Crawford, Sixth Man of the Year, is more of a shooting guard, and rookie Jeff Teague is too inexperienced, leaving the Hawks to struggle even worse when Bibby is not on the floor.
"It was an ugly game for us on both ends of the floor,'' said Hawks coach Mike Woodson. "The fact that we couldn't score was a major problem for us. That puts too much pressure on you to get stops defensively.''
Nelson, 28, is playing the best of his career,. He dominated the first-round sweep against the Charlotte Bobcats, averaging 23.8 points and 4.5 assists, filling the void when center Dwight Howard struggled. He is expecting to adjust based on Howard's return to form.
"I don't know about matchups, except we've got an advantage at center,'' Nelson said. "I feel good about the way I'm playing, but I'm not saying I outplayed anyone. I just want to keep us on track.''
Nelson started slowly this season, coming back from shoulder surgery that sidelined him for the second half of last season. Then he missed 16 games after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. It wasn't until after the All-Star break that he started playing like an All-Star again.
And it was no coincidence that the Magic finished so strong, winning 20 of their final 23 games going into the playoffs, where they have won five consecutive games.
"I think it really bothered him with what happened last season, when he missed so much time. But it's fueling him now,'' said Magic general manager Otis Smith. "He wants to be the reason we win (a championship) as opposed to a reason why we're just good.''
When Smith gave Nelson his contract extension two summers ago, there was criticism that Nelson wasn't good enough, or durable enough, to play a prominent role on a contending team. But those days have died out.
"This isn't about 'my time' or 'my turn.' It's just recognizing what the teams needs at this point and time,'' Nelson said. "I don't put pressure on myself, but each series is different. Like the last one, I want to do whatever it is we need.''