Dwight Howard played every last second of the Orlando Magic's 88-82 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series, leading the way with 33 points and 19 rebounds as the Magic evened the series. Orlando withstood another sterling performance from Hawks reserve Jamal Crawford, who poured in 25 points in 31 minutes, in the win.
For Orlando, little changed tonight from the first game at the offensive end. It struggled with turnovers, took fewer three-pointers than usual, and shot a low percentage from everywhere. Howard's teammates shot 18-of-66 from the field, which is precisely why Hawks coach Larry Drew can live with Howard dominating.
No, the Magic's difference came at the defensive end. Though they allowed the league's second-worst offensive rebounding team to grab 28.9 percent of its own misses, Orlando played an otherwise brilliant defensive game. Atlanta managed 82 points on the night, a figure which includes three desperation three-pointers in the first half, as well as a banked-in long two-pointer by Joe Johnson at another shot-clock buzzer. Discounting those nearly miraculous shots and you get a better idea of how stout the Magic guarded in the halfcourt.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.
On the strength of Crawford's white-hot jump-shooting, Atlanta built a lead as large as 10 points in the first half; back-to-back long twos off the dribble from last season's Sixth Man of the Year gave the Hawks a 32-22 lead at the 9:07 mark of the second. The game hardly looked lost--not with 39 minutes to play--but the Magic had to be concerned with their inability to score.
That's when Howard asserted himself. He scored 18 of his Magic record-tying 20 points after the timeout following the second Crawford jumper. Relatedly, Drew chose this portion of the game to use Josh Powell and Hilton Armstrong against the Magic's All-Star. The more stout Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia were nowhere to be found.
Indeed, the way Drew doled out his frontcourt minutes will come into question here. Leaving two end-of-the-bench types alone to fend with the league's best center is one thing, but benching one's own best player for almost the entire first half is another. Al Horford picked up his second personal foul just 2:10 into the game, which prompted Drew to pull Horford for the rest of the half. The trickle-down effect it had on Atlanta's rotation left it without a reliable offensive big man. On a night when Johnson (6-of-15, 14 points), Marvin Williams (1-of-6, 4 points) and Kirk Hinrich (4-of-12, 9 points) struggled to produce from the wings, Atlanta needed another scorer.
The fact that the Hawks whittled a 14-point Magic lead to 4 with less than two minutes to play only further underscores the seriousness of Drew's gaffe. I believe Horford represents an improvement over Powell and Armstrong to such a degree that he would have been worth at least 6 points, the Magic's final victory margin, had he played over those two for at least another 8 first-half minutes. He at least commands defensive attention; Howard rightly ignored Armstrong and Powell whenever the Hawks had possession. Indeed, Drew helped turn Howard, the league's top defender, loose defensively as a helper.
But a Hawks head coach mismanaging Horford's minutes is not news. That Stan Van Gundy altered his point guard rotation is, though. Orlando's head coach used only Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu at point guard after halftime, leaving Gilbert Arenas and Chris Duhon benched. The decision forced the usually gunshy Turkoglu to play more aggressively, and though he missed 12 of his 16 shots, he a least ran the offense well and made proper passes. The 6-foot-10 matchup nightmare dished 5 of the Magic's 9 assists, with just 1 turnover, in splitting his 39 minutes between small forward and point guard. If Arenas, who's struggled mightily since coming to Orlando in a midseason trade with the Washington Wizards, is out of the Magic's rotation, you bet your sweet behind that's news. For what it's worth, Arenas shot 1-of-3 from the field, with 1 rebound and 1 turnover, in 6 minutes.
Though Turkoglu and Jason Richardson, his mate on the Magic's starting wing, struggled from the field (a combined 7-of-28), they hooked up for the clinching basket. Turkoglu ran a pick-and-roll with Howard on the right side of the floor, dribbling off the pick from right to left. He then fired a pass to Richardson in the right corner for a crucial three-pointer, giving the Magic a 7-point lead with 1:07 to play.
I also liked how the Magic followed that trip. Atlanta, needing a bucket, ran a high pick-and-roll with Johnson handling and Horford screening. With Richardson checking him, Johnson dribbled all the way to the right baseline. Howard utterly ignored Horford, instead trapping Johnson on the sideline and forcing Horford to pop out behind the three-point line to take Johnson's pass. He uncorked a three-pointer which fell well off the mark, Richardson secured the rebound, and Orlando needed only to make its free throws the rest of the way to assure victory. Johnson did have a rough night from the field, but I dig the call of sending Howard to double him anyway. I'd rather concede an open three to Horford, with a career mark of 3-of-11 from beyond the arc, than a contested two to Johnson with Richardson on him.
It's clear that the Magic haven't a clue about scoring when Collins plays; it's also clear the Hawks haven't a clue about scoring against Orlando at all unless their deep twos, usually created in one-on-one sets, drop. You'd think this dynamic would favor Orlando going forward, given that Collins plays less than half a game on average. But we won't know for sure until Thursday, when play resumes in Atlanta.