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.
But Quentin Richardson and J.J. Redick defended against him as well. And Dwight Howard, free to roam because Atlanta’s centers are minimal threats on offense, always lurked in the background in case Johnson drove to the hoop.
The way the Magic defended Johnson was even more impressive when you consider that Johnson scored six of his points on desperation heaves. He swished a 31-footer as the shot clock expired midway through the first quarter and a 26-footer as the shot clock expired late in the second quarter.
As impressive and enjoyable as the Game 1 victory was, two concerns lingered: the probably unsustainable percentage of jump shots the Hawks made (unofficially, I have the Hawks 7-23 from 16-23 feet* and, thus, 40.7 eFG% outside of 16 feet once three-pointers are accounted for) and Larry Drew’s tactical personnel decisions. In Game 2, the Hawks shot much worse and had a chance to win despite Larry Drew. It was a terribly wasted opportunity but, if Drew can either commit to playing his best players until they are disqualified or not play his worst players until absolutely necessary, the Hawks, in possession of home court advantage, can still conceivably win this series. Which is rather amazing considering they were outscored over the course of the 82 game season and their head coach either didn’t try his hardest or proved himself obscenely incompetent in one half of their playoff games.
The numbers were ugly across the board for Atlanta save nice performances from Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith. Crawford finished with 25 points on 8-17 shooting to lead Atlanta. Josh Smith added 17 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Al Horford finished with a double double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in only 26 minutes of action. The Magic threw double teams at Joe Johnson all night as he finished with 14 points and five assists. Atlanta was out rebounded by a count of 52-39 including 20-13 advantage on the offensive boards. The Hawks would have had a much harder time staying as close as they did were it not for 16 Orlando turnovers.
This game is hard to judge. One can say the Hawks could have easily won this game but one can say the Magic could have easily blown this game out. All I know is that I doubt anyone can say who will win this series just based on this game and who has the momentum going into Game 3.
The Magic pounded the Hawks on the boards and outscored them 29-11 from the free-throw line. That’s how they won while shooting 34 percent from the field and committing 16 turnovers.
The deficit on the boards is can be chalked up to Dwight beasting and Al playing only 26 minutes because of L.D.’s two-foul rule. The disparity in free throws is a Dwight production, too, because it’s become clear that Twin (and to a lesser extent, Zaza) is the only Hawks big with any hope of preventing him from shooting 100 percent in the post.
After playing 46 minutes in Game 1, Howard was on the court for all 48 minutes of Game 2.
“I don’t know if he is able to keep his play up for the whole series the way he’s playing,” Johnson said. “He’s playing a lot of minutes and he’s putting them on his back every night, and I’m thinking that eventually we will wear him down.”
Even if Howard keeps it up, the Hawks have figured out a formula to win anyway, as they showed by winning Game 1 103-93 despite Howard’s 46 points. The Hawks also put to rest the ugly images of their 2010 playoffs loss to Orlando.
Larry Drew’s mishandling of foul trouble and Horford’s foul trouble in particular has been a constant lament for numerous Atlanta writers, but Tuesday’s head-slapping (il)logic was just too much. Horford picked up his second foul just a shade over two minutes into the game. Drew unsurprisingly pulled him … for the entire first half! That’s right: Al Horford, the most valuable Hawk, played two minutes in the first half because Larry Drew didn’t want him to be unavailable later on due to an ejection he was four fouls away from.
Howard’s mastery has continued into the postseason once again. He is averaging 39.5 points per game and 19.0 rebounds per game against Atlanta in the two games so far. He has always upped his level of play in the postseason, but never to this level. He had always played heavy minutes in the postseason — he averaged 39.0 minutes per game in 51 career playoff games entering this season — but Orlando asked him to do more this year.
In three games against the Hawks since March 30 — one in the regular season and two in these playoffs — the Magic have made only 40.0 percent of their shots from the field and just 26.5 percent of their 3-point tries.
Those woeful shooting numbers place even greater pressure on the Magic to avoid turnovers, rebound well and play strong defense.
Forget the speculation about Dwight’s future and savor the coronation of Dwight’s greatness. Van Gundy said something very wise a couple of months ago when he was talking about all the hullabaloo surrounding Carmelo Anthony’s departure from Denver and the resulting speculation about whether Dwight would stay in Orlando. Van Gundy’s message – and I’m paraphrasing – was essentially this: Why do American sports fans and media spend so much time and effort worrying about what might happen down the road rather than enjoying what’s right in front of them now?
And what is right in front of Magic fans at this juncture in time is a once-in-a-lifetime player. Sometimes I wonder if Howard is appreciated enough, not only locally but nationally. Do we realize what we are watching? Do we understand that he is not only the greatest Magic player of all-time, but one of the greatest NBA players of all-time? We have another Russell and Chamberlain in our midst.
With expectations ratcheted up for starters Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson after an atrocious Game 1, they pretty much sputtered again. Turkoglu was 4-16 and 1 for 7 on 3-pointers. Richardson was 3-12 and 2-5 on 3-pointers.
Enough of them were good looks, and well within their range.
At one point, Turkoglu missed three consecutive 3-pointers in the second half.
(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and ESPN 1080′s Magic Insider (http://espn1080.com). Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to follow him daily. You can download the HTD app here).
Topics: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks, Brandon Bass, Chris Duhon, Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, J.j. Redick, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Kirk Hinrich, Larry Drew, Marvin Williams, Orlando Magic, Quentin Richardson, Ryan Anderson, Stan Van Gundy