The Orlando Magic quest for a championship began on Saturday night and left the team searching for answer to some familiar questions. Who will help Dwight Howard? What is it going to take for this team to play defense consistently? The Atlanta Hawks continue to confound the Magic opening up the series with a 103-93 victory. The Hawks overcame a historic night from Dwight Howard who finished with a mammoth 46 point, and 19 rebound effort in the loss. Atlanta rode the hot shooting of Joe Johnson (25 points) and Jamal Crawford (23 points off the bench) to create a balanced attack and steal the home court advantage from Orlando in the series. The points by Howard tied an Orlando Magic playoff record matching Tracy McGrady’s 46 point outburst in 2003
Dwight Howard has grown weary of the talk about Jason Collin’s perceived ability to defend him. The two players are not even in the same galaxy in comparison but Howard did admit that Collins and Kendrick Perkins are the toughest defenders for him to play against (with Collins actually being the tougher of the two). In an effort to end the talk about Collins, Howard went to work scoring on traditional post ups with his first two shots. Howard remained aggressive attacking Collins and induced him into his 2nd foul with 5:15 left in the first quarter. Za Za Pachulia entered and lasted just under two minutes before he picked up 2 fouls against Howard as well and exited at the 3:36 mark of the first. The Hawks then sent Etan Thomas into the fray against the Howard barrage. Dwight scored the first 12 Magic points before Hedo Turkgolu finally contributed with a made free throw at the 1:20 mark of the quarter. Orlando led 19-17 at the end of one and it looked like it was going to be another low scoring affair between these two teams.
In the 2nd quarter Josh Powell found himself with a turn against the talents of Howard and he was greeted with same disregard Howard showed the other Hawk defenders. (Powell was left for dead picking up 4 fouls in the quarter) Howard was the best player on the planet in the first half abusing the Hawks to a tune of 31 points (19 in the 2nd quarter), and 8 rebounds on 11-16 from the floor and 9-11 from the free throw line. It seemed like Orlando should be ahead by 10 or 15 points with that outburst from their MVP but it was not the case. Atlanta more than kept pace. Despite Howard’s utter dominance Atlanta took a 55-48 lead going into the break. Four Hawks reached double figures in the first half; Joe Johnson 13, Al Horford 12, Kirk Hinrich and Jamal Crawford each contributed 11.
Jameer Nelson opened the 3rd quarter with 5 quick points but Atlanta again responded with Johnson and Josh Smith as the catalysts to give the Hawks its first double digit lead of the night at 64-53. Howard picked up his 2nd and 3rd fouls in the first 5 minutes of the quarter which seemed to put a damper on his play. At the 5:37 mark in the 3rd quarter Howard picked up a technical foul as he not so gently fouled flop artist Pachulia, sending Za Za crashing to the floor. Orlando trailed by as many as 16 and it was the play of Nelson in the 3rd quarter that kept this game from getting out of hand. Nelson literally did “everything” in the 3rd quarter tallying 20 points, 4 rebounds, and an assist. As Nelson got hot Howard got cold and the Magic remained a one man show trailing 85-71 at the end of 3.
With 10:58 left in the game Howard picked up his 5th foul, right after being called for two consecutive 3 second calls on the offensive end. Van Gundy called a time out but left Howard out on the floor with 5 fouls. A move he would later say was a “no brainer”. Howard responded adding 12 more points to his total. Collins was finally relived of his defensive misery when he fouled out at the 6:33 mark in the final period. Orlando cut the lead to 8 trailing 98-90 with 2:01 left to play but a Crawford 3 pushed the lead back to 11 with 1:25 remaining in the game. That shot proved to be the back breaker.
After the game Van Gundy said “Those middle two quarters, we had no answer for them at all in terms of stopping them.” He would later go on to blame himself for not having a better defensive scheme against the larger Hawk team. “I’m not coming in here angry at players who had bad games or anything else. I’m disappointed in what I did and my role in this.” Dwight Howard set a career playoff high, set a franchise record for points in a half, tied the franchise record for playoff points and tied a franchise record for free throws made in a playoff game. Howard had little to say despite his historic night only able to muster “It’s frustrating that we lost but it’s the first game. We’ll come back in the second game with a better effort.”
It appears the Hawks are prepared to play every single big against Superman and then construct a kryptonite kitchen sink to throw at him. Six different Atlanta Hawks guarded Howard in this game but if they can continue with this type of success why scrap that game plan? Atlanta has now won 4 straight games versus Orlando dating back to the regular season and another question now comes into play for Orlando. Do the Hawks simply have their number this year?
About the Author
Written by Warren Shaw
I am an avid Basketball fan who has worked for the New York Knicks, Alonzo Mourning Charities and various other sports organizations. Having covered many NBA and various professional sporting events has given me the opportunity to provide insight with an unbiased but flavor driven view. I look forward to providing NBA content and interacting with knowledgeable fans and readers. Follow me on Twitter @shawsports or Email your questions to me at Warrenshaw@prosportsblogging.com