|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2010||[Print without images]|
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Two primary observations from Game 1 of the mismatch otherwise known as the second-round series between Orlando and Atlanta:
• Nice to be reminded how good of a player Dwight Howard can be when he's not watching from the bench in foul trouble.
• Awfully strange to see Mike Woodson pull one of his two All-Stars, Al Horford, early in the first quarter after he picked up his first foul.
You are rightfully excused if you did a little channel surfing during Tuesday night's early game, a 114-71 mauling of the Hawks by the Magic that turned in Orlando's favor during a 17-0 second-quarter run and turned into a joke the rest of the way, Atlanta managing only 10 points in the second quarter and 11 in the third in an annihilation of epic proportions witnessed by none other than his highness, commissioner David Stern.
The commish (who attended with his wife and stayed until the final buzzer) got booed by the hometown fans prior to the game when he stood at center court for the announcement that the Magic will play host to the 2012 All-Star Game, the Magic faithful undoubtedly placing the blame for Howard's four games of foul trouble in the first round squarely on Easy Dave's shoulders.
It should be noted that the Magic lost none of those games, a detail that may have escaped your memory banks during the eight days of idle time the Magic spent awaiting the winner of the Milwaukee-Atlanta series.
Which leads us to ask: If the Hawks got tossed around this easily and this thoroughly, what would have happened to the Bucks, a team that was using Kurt Thomas, Dan Gadzuric and Primoz Brezec at center?
At least Atlanta has an All-Star playing that position in Horford, an All-Star whose midrange game was supposed to be a weapon the Hawks could use to draw Howard away from the basket and open up the paint to give Atlanta's athletes some space to do their thing.
But there was Horford heading to the bench just 5:42 into the game after being whistled for a foul, getting subbed out for Jason Collins (who appeared to set a postseason record by getting called for two fouls in his first 14 seconds of playing time).
Somewhat of a quick hook treatment was also applied to Josh Smith, who sat with 1:53 remaining in the first quarter after drawing his second personal.
The Hawks trailed just 25-23 after one, and the deficit was only five by the time Horford returned with 8:55 remaining in the second. But Horford had trouble trying to develop any semblance of a rhythm (he finished 1-for-7 for four points with six rebounds), and the game quickly got way, way away from the Hawks.
"I didn't want Al going through the quarter with two fouls, getting a second foul and now he's got to be looking over his shoulder going into the second quarter," Woodson said. "I thought we played it right as far as that was concerned. That had nothing to do with the second-quarter letdown. We still had key guys on the floor that have carried us all season that just didn't get it done."
Be that as it may, it was quite a contrast to the way Stan Van Gundy coached the game from his end, employing the unusual tactic of leaving Howard on the court from the opening tip through the first nine minutes of the second quarter.
Howard produced 14 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks through that 21-minute stretch, scoring seven points during the 17-0 run that broke the game open. Woodson conceded that Howard's 21 consecutive minutes of playing time caught him off-guard.
"That group was just rolling along, and I asked my assistants should we give Dwight a rest and they said 'No, let it ride.' I probably got lucky the game went the way it did because that could have worn him down there," Van Gundy said.
Van Gundy being Van Gundy, he managed to find fault with his team's first-quarter defense. And his message to the team was a cautionary one afterward, telling the Magic he was going to come to practice Wednesday armed with a list of instances in which a team won Game 1 of a playoff series in a blowout but had gone on to lose the series (Exhibit A should be the 1983 NBA Finals, when the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 148-114 but went on to lose four of the next five games).
"We've been good at not getting stuck on our success," Van Gundy said of a team that led the league in point differential (+7.5), won 31 games by 14 points or more and improved its playoff record to 5-0. "This should not lead to a false sense of security at all, that's the mindset we have to get into tomorrow. Despite the score there's a lot we can do better. Our defense will have to be better in Game 2 than it was in Game 1."
Howard played only eight minutes in the second half and finished with team highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds, and none of Orlando's starters surpassed 29 minutes of total playing time in a game in which the Magic led by as many as 46.
"We had no juice tonight, and we'll have to back and regroup. We didn't play Atlanta Hawks basketball, it was an ugly game for us both ends of the floor," Woodson said.
But was it so bad of a beatdown that it'll be a demoralization that carries into Thursday? That is the question the Hawks will have to ponder inside their own heads as they spend the next 45 hours trying to shake this one off.
They have already seen a 2-0 lead in a series (against the Bucks) turn into a 3-2 deficit, yet they summoned the resiliency they needed in that one to get back into the second round for a second straight season.
And as for Howard, all it may take is one or two questionable whistles to put him back in the foul-plagued, foul-mooded funk that defined his first-round body of work against the Charlotte Bobcats. But on this night, at least, he was back to looking like Superman.
"He played with good poise, good patience down in the post. Defensively he was a little tentative early on, but clearly he dominated the game, and when they doubled he made good plays, and when they didn't double I thought he had success scoring and drawing fouls," Van Gundy said. "It was nice to have him on the floor and playing well."
Said Howard: "We understand it's only one game, and we understand we need to dominate every game like we did tonight. The first round is over with. I don't even remember it. I didn't allow anything to throw me off my game tonight, and that's what I have to do the rest of the series."