ORLANDO, Fla. — On Wednesday night, Dwight Howard declared it was ‘playoff time.’
“It’s the real season.”
Well, Howard, for the most part, delivered on his declaration. The big man set a career-high for points in a playoff game with 46 points in a 103-93 loss to the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night at the Amway Center.
On his way to tying a franchise playoff record for points in a postseason game, he scored 31 of his total in the first half. The only problem with this scenario was that nobody else on the Magic found a way to aid Howard, with the exception of Jameer Nelson— who added 27 points after scoring a single point int he first half.
This was a game that certainly leaves behind a bad taste. It was obvious when Howard’s postgame interview lasted about two minutes.
From the beginning, Orlando struggled to get going. It was something that the Hawks took advantage of, especially in the second and third quarters. Atlanta outscored the Magic 68-52 in those two periods.
“Those middle two quarters, we had no answer for them at all in terms of stopping them,” Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We couldn’t really play anything that they did.”
Outside of Howard and Nelson, the rest of the Magic roster combined for 20 points and made 8-of-34 field goals (23.5 percent). Even with the rest of the team out of rhythm and unable to score in double figure, Orlando managed to shoot 45 percent from the field, which is vaguely below its season average (46 percent).
The team never could get good shots off on offense, even though it dominated in second chance points with 23 and outrebounded the Hawks 40-29.
The biggest part of the problem was the Magic’s inability to stop the Atlanta offense. The Hawks shot over 50 percent of their field goals (51.4 percent) and made it difficult on the Magic all night with their play. Atlanta took firm control of the game in the second and third quarter where the team scored 68 points and shot 52.4 percent in the second and 66.7 percent in the third.
Van Gundy said his team had trouble with the Hawks’ perimeter guys, in particular the one-on-one and playing against the pick and roll.
With Atlanta giving Howard opportunities to shoot, the risk of guarding everyone else paid of.
The Hawks led by as many as 18 points, but Nelson’s surge in the third period kept the contest closer than it could have been. Nelson entered the half with just three shot attempts and one point before giving the Magic a spark with 20 third quarter points.
Atlanta head coach Larry Drew said that Nelson was able to get going right after Drew subbed Hinrich out. He added that Hinrich had done a good job containing Nelson when he was covering him.
Nelson chimed in following the Game 1 loss, saying Orlando needs to make it tougher on the Hawks.
“They played a great game tonight, they executed well, they got the ball in guys’ hands and created open shots,” said Nelson.
The Magic turned the ball over 18 times. It is a problem that Van Gundy emphasized needs to be fixed but haven’t been able to do so.
He added that his focus is on him and his game plan, saying, “I’ve got to find a way that we can guard them more effectively…”
It is not time to panic. But Winning Game 2 on Tuesday is a must for a franchise that is poised to make a run the playoffs.