Around the Association presented by AirTran Airways - Game 2 vs. Hawks
The Magic dove, scratched and clawed on every possession to outhustle the Hawks and earn a Game 2 triumph.
"This one to me came down to one thing, we played extremely hard," Stan Van Gundy said.
Though its shooting was substandard, Orlando’s intensity and focus was exceptional.
Dwight Howard – similar to his remarkable Game 1 performance – was essentially the only player to flourish offensively. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year erupted for 33 points and 19 rebounds and played all 48 minutes.
"What Dwight did tonight was phenomenal," Van Gundy said.
Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson, meanwhile, recovered from another difficult shooting night when they each buried critical shots in the final two minutes. Turk, on one hand, connected on a drive and J-Rich followed with a corner 3-pointer.
Unlike Game 1, the Magic found a way to deny Atlanta’s perimeter players from thriving. Joe Johnson, Kirk Hinrich and Jamal Crawford shot a combined 18-of-44 from the field. They also limited Al Horford to just 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
If the first two games were any indication of what this series will ultimately be, this division showdown will be an all-out war.
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The Magic’s All-Star center is simply a man amongst boys and he’s proving it on the NBA’s biggest stage.
A game after erupting for a playoff career-high 46 points and 19 rebounds in the Magic’s Game 1 loss, Howard followed up that sensational performance with a magnificent 33-point, 17-rebound effort in Orlando’s bounce-back Game 2 victory over Atlanta on Wednesday night.
“He really was phenomenal tonight,” Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy explained.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic of Superman’s statline was that he played 48 minutes. Yes, that’s right, he played every second of the entire contest, while still bringing unbelievable energy and effort.
This season, he has looked so dominant on the floor on a consistent basis that it makes you wonder if he’s even a more commanding presence than Wilt Chamberlain.
Sure, Wilt recorded 100 points in a game, notched countless scoring and rebounding titles and was named to 13 All-Star squads, but the Stilt performed against players, who were considerably smaller than him.
Howard, on the other hand, seemingly grabs every rebound, controls the paint offensively and defensively, while striking a fear so great into the opposition that they refuse to challenge him at the rim. And these are against players that are his size and sometimes even bigger.
It makes you wonder, is Howard even human?
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Orlando refused to surrender to Atlanta on every possession. Some examples include J.J. Redick’s strip of Kirk Hinrich and subsequent dive before tossing an over-the-shoulder pass to Jameer Nelson for the uncontested layup and Dwight Howard’s monster rejection on Hinrich.
The playoffs are all about which team wants it more and which team is willing to go above and beyond for the full 48 minutes. As a result, the rest of this series between the Magic and Hawks – which already after two games is electrifying – will come down to defensive execution and passion.
Just like it did the last two seasons when it advanced to the NBA Finals in 2009 and then returned to the conference finals last year, Orlando prides itself on its ability to bully its opponents with relentlessness and sheer hustle.
It was enjoyable to watch Nelson submerge on the floor and snatch a loose ball away from Hinrich in the late stages of Game 2 – which eventually led to a critical basket by Hedo Turkoglu.
It was equally elating to see the Magic clamp down the Hawks’ best perimeter scorers and limit Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford and Hinrich to just 18-of-44 shooting from the field.
"Our guys effort tonight was above and beyond," Van Gundy said.
Needless to say, it will take a similar effort the rest of the series to beat Atlanta and advance.
During the regular season, Orlando ranked No. 1 in the NBA in 3-pointers made and amongst the top 10 in long distance percentage.
But after the first two games of their First Round series against the Hawks, the Magic are a combined 11-of-45 from beyond the arc in this year’s postseason.
In Game 2, for instance, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson combined to connect on just three of their 18 shot attempts from 3-point range.
Is it playoff pressure; is it Atlanta’s defense; is it lack of confidence; or could it simply be bad fortune?
The expectation in the locker room is that eventually – and hopefully as early as Game 3 in Atlanta – Orlando’s 3-point attempts will start to fall frequently. There are just too many quality shooters on the Magic for them to continue to struggle.
It would be easy to credit the Hawks, but realistically, the Magic have had plenty of good looks from long distance and that should offer an array of confidence to the team and their fans moving forward.
"I got to think at some point we're going to knock down some shots and things are going to open up a little bit," Stan Van Gundy said.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are players who will tough it out and play no matter what malady comes their way. Players, who refuse to sit and instead have to be sat down. Players like Jameer Nelson.
Take Tuesday night’s contest against the Hawks for example. Stricken with a terrible migraine that forced him to miss much of shootaround and made him incredibly nauseous, Nelson battled through the illness and gave a gritty effort.
While you could tell something was potentially wrong by his 4-for-15 shooting line, you could never tell by the energy he brought to the court.
There were his countless hustle plays, including a dive for a loose ball that led to a key layup down the stretch.
“I just remember the ball being loose and trying to beat whatever guy they had running to the ball to the ground,” he explained. “Usually whatever guy hits the ground first gets the ball.”
There were also his 13 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals that helped alleviate some of the pressure off of Dwight Howard’s enormous shoulders.
In Game 2, Nelson truly was a Mighty Mouse.
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