The Orlando Magic entered halftime of tonight's game against the Atlanta Hawks trailing, 51-39. In the final 9 minutes of the half, they scored 7 points on 16 possessions, with 5 turnovers, giving Atlanta control of the game. In the end, it didn't matter. Orlando turned up its defense in the second half, turning a double-digit halftime deficit to a double-digit win by a score of 93-76, against a Hawks team that had won its first 7 home games by an average of 13 points each. Dwight Howard led Orlando with 22 points, 17 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots, while Vince Carter scored 21, and Anthony Johnson contributed 17 points off the bench in relief of Jason Williams. Joe Johnson led Atlanta, which managed 25 points in the entire second half, with 22 points on 9-of-21 shooting.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
It's hard to envision any team defending Atlanta better than the Magic did tonight. We noted in the preview that the Hawks have a potent offense, which they displayed in the first half. But in the second, the Magic forced the Hawks into taking contested jumper after contested jumper. Better yet, they kept Atlanta, the league's third-best offensive rebounding team, off the offensive glass. It was one-and-done on most second-half possessions for the Hawks, which fueled Orlando's successful comeback bid.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said before the game he wanted Howard to be more aggressive offensively, and he challenged Howard in the second half, instructing his players to deliver Howard the ball on every possession. Howard responded. Overall, Howard had 18 shooting possessions, second on the team only to Carter, who had 20. But when he wasn't shooting, Howard was drawing defenders and looking for the open man. Though he didn't always make the right pass--three assists to three bad-pass turnovers--he still affected Atlanta's defense to a great degree. Gone are the days when Howard immediately put the ball on the floor and barreled into his defender after receiving the ball in the post. He's much more willing to read the defense and react now, the sign of a maturing player.
Another key to Orlando's win was its bench production. On the second night of a back-to-back, the Magic needed their reserves to step up and provide their winded starters with a breather. Johnson responded with his best game of the season. He scored 15 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter--yes, Anthony Johnson outscored the entire Hawks team in the period--to put the game away. Williams, the Magic starter who played nearly 40 minutes last night against Miami, looked winded, but only needed to play 27 tonight thanks to Johnson's great game off the bench.
Reserve small forward Matt Barnes, too, played well. He missed both of his shots in 22 minutes, but managed to grab 11 rebounds in that span. He also defended Joe Johnson capably, rarely letting him get to the rim. It was he, and not the starter Mickael Pietrus, who closed out the game. Barnes and A.J. outshone J.J. Redick, who attacked off the dribble all night to the tune of 9 points in 16 minutes. And while Howard ate up 41 minutes at center, Marcin Gortat was impressive in relief, with 2 blocks and 3 boards in that brief stretch. Every Magic player save for Williams, Pietrus, and Rashard Lewis had a great night, and that team effort led to an impressive road victory.
There were positives even in Lewis' mediocre game. Though he scored 14 points on 16 shots, he connected on 2 of his 5 three-pointers. He entered the game shooting 17.6% from long-range, so perhaps the good showing beyond the arc tonight will get him into a groove. Orlando struggled on threes tonight, with 10 makes in 31 attempts.
No game is perfect, and the Magic demonstrated that with another poor performance (13-of-20) at the foul line. Ball movement, at least in the first half, was also subpar. But on the whole, this win is tremendous for Orlando. Holding the league's third-most-efficient offense, at home, on four days' rest, to 25 points on 41 second-half possessions--19 on 38 after the Hawks scored on each of their first three possessions of the half--is no mean feat. Hats off to the Magic for buckling down in the second half to earn the victory. And hats off to Howard as well, for dominating at both ends of the floor.