The worry in Orlando’s camp after sweeping Charlotte in the first round and having to sit and wait for Atlanta to finish Milwaukee was how the team would respond after a week without Playoff basketball. When Dwight Howard stepped to the line for the first time and proceeded to air ball his first attempt and barely grazed the rim with his second, it looked like the Magic’s legs were a little bit behind the 8 p.m. start.
Atlanta took advantage of some sluggish defense early to get to the basket and get open looks. That might have been the only thing that went well for the Hawks tonight.
For the final three quarters, Orlando simply dominated. The Hawks scored just 21 points in the middle two quarters as the Magic romped to a 1-0 series lead with a 114-71 victory.
This game could simply be described as Atlanta’s worst nightmare (or as The Orlando Sentinel would call it: a Dwight-mare).
Dwight Howard had his imprint on this game from the very beginning and carried it all the way until Orlando had a 45-point lead in the third quarter. He broke out of whatever slump ailed him in the first round to score 21 points, grab 12 rebounds and block five shots. He was present on defense, but smart in avoiding costly and stupid fouls. He was also very patient on offense and made smart passes to open players or strong moves to the basket.
His first seven field goals were dunks. That tells you the kind of statement he made on the game.
Atlanta found something in coming back against Milwaukee but Howard’s presence in the paint took away any mojo the team might have had. Josh Smith (14 points, 7-14 field goals) was the only player to attack the basket with any type of aggression and without trepidation. Unfortunately for the Hawks, he was limited in this one by foul trouble.
With him out of the game, Orlando quickly turned a two-point advantage a comfortable double-digit margin. It was 20 at halftime and only continued to grow as Howard and Jameer Nelson got to work in the third quarter. The Magic are often criticized for not being able to put teams away (despite leading the league in point differential), but never faltered in Game One.
Nelson scored 19 points, much of it running the pick and roll with Howard throughout the game as Atlanta’s defenders looked helpless at times while switching on every screen (as the team normally does). Orlando took advantage of this strategy and found mismatches and kept the ball moving.
Unlike the Hawks, who relied heavily on one-on-one basketball and failed to attack the basket thanks to the Magic’s stellar defense. Once Orlando got into the rhythm of the game and the bench took over in the second quarter, the two teams hardly looked like they were in the same league.
This game very much mimicked the Magic’s victories in Orlando over the Hawks earlier this season. A close first quarter followed by complete dominance by the second unit and Dwight Howard and an extension of the lead throughout the game. Seems like a successful formula.
Stan Van Gundy was happy with the effort, but always looking for something to pick at, he said Atlanta missed a lot of good looks and had “one of those nights.” Van Gundy has to do a lot to keep his team from relaxing after such a crushing victory in the opening game, but I have to disagree.
No Atlanta will not shoot 34.6 percent, and Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford and Al Horford will not shoot a combined 6 for 23 (with Johnson hitting 4 of 11) again. But this was hardly a case of “not your night.” Orlando had a hand in every face and rarely gave up an uncontested shot. The only problems were when Josh Smith was able to get on the break and score. But he was rendered ineffective by having to defend Howard on switches and getting into foul trouble.
There was certainly rust to shake off early, but once it was gone the Magic picked up where they left off (except with an efficient offense shooting 52.4 percent from the floor).
The important thing, which is something Van Gundy was right about, is that this is only one game. A 43-point victory does not guarantee you anything for Game Two.