Vince Carter has been a puzzle for Orlando all season. He has hardly been the superstar pouring in 30 and 40 point games on a near nightly basis. He was hardly the superstar that could take over a game offensively.
Orlando did not need that Vince Carter for most of the season, but everyone still waited for that light to switch on and the high-flying Carter to activate. He finished with career lows in scoring, but played on the most successful team of his career.
Carter may be finally flipping the switch in the Playoffs, exactly the time Otis Smith envisioned Carter dominating.
Vince scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half and 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Magic erased an eight-point halftime deficit and barraged the Hawks with a 17-2 fourth-quarter run to win Game Two 112-98.
It was not so much Carter's numbers that stood out, but the way he achieved them. Carter was as aggressive with the ball as he has been all season. He looked to find a mismatch offensively and attack his defender and finish at the rim. Carter shot nine of 16 in the game.
He has found some sort of rhythm in this postseason. Despite struggling from beyond the 3-point line -- he was two for five tonight -- he is shooting 40.9 percent from the floor and 17.7 points per game in the playoffs. During a time when defenses supposedly get sharper and the pressure gets higher, Carter is performing. His shooting numbers are not great, but his scoring has been critical for the Magic. He always seems to make the big shot and do whatever it is his team needs.
Tonight, Orlando needed Carter to carry some of the load offensively and create in a come-from-behind effort.
During the second half, Dwight Howard was sent to the bench after picking up his fourth foul late in the third quarter. Howard was dominating the game, scoring 18 of his 29 points in the first quarter and receiving a more than healthy amount of touches. Atlanta had no answer for him.
Except to have him sit on the bench. The Hawks could only improve off of Tuesday's performance and certainly did that. Atlanta attacked the basket and ran a much more efficient offense than in Game One.
When Howard checked out in the first quarter, the Hawks made their move and simply outworked a Magic team that seemed to expect another 43-point victory. Carter during this stretch could not buy a bucket and Orlando suffered, falling behind by eight.
Carter picked up his play in the fourth quarter, creating a vision of the offense Otis Smith surely had in mind when he acquired him. Carter and Howard achieved a near perfect balance offensively. With Howard's efficient game offensively and ability to hit free throws, he and Carter ran the pick and roll perfectly to close the game.
Carter either got to the basket or found Jameer Nelson, Mickael Pietrus or Rashard Lewis open for a jumper or another pass to an open man. Orlando won the fourth quarter 28-15 because of this balance and had four players score at least 20 points.
Dwight Howard was once again where everything started and finished. He continued to dominate the Hawks inside and the Magic continued to give him the ball as often as they could. Howard had 18 points in the first quarter alone, tying a franchise playoff record. He shot eight of nine from the floor and found a good rhythm at the free throw line going 13 of 18 -- he also pulled in 17 rebounds.
Atlanta even decided not to foul Howard late in the game as the lead continued to grow.
Confidence was really flowing for Orlando at this point as Atlanta wilted away from what got the team back into the game and nearly tied up the series. The Hawks settled for jumpers and stopped attacking the basket. They fell into their bad habit of one on one basketball as the Magic raced by.
But Atlanta made some adjustments and played significantly better than in Game One. The Hawks ran a lot more pick and rolls and moved the ball much better, and made some shots that were not falling Tuesday.
The big thing they did was have Al Horford hang around the perimeter and pull Dwight Howard away from the hoop. Horford scored 24 points and shot 9 of 13 from the floor. He was on tonight and Howard was caught roaming in the paint a bit too much.
But what it did effectively was give Atlanta a chance to grab offensive rebounds and attack the paint with Howard pulled away. The Hawks outrebounded the Magic 41-35 and 16-8 on the offensive glass. Atlanta outworked Orlando to rebounds throughout the second and third quarters and really gave itself a chance to win.
Ultimately, bad habits and the Magic's defense prevailed. Orlando was able to score at a very high rate -- shooting 55.9 percent for the game -- but struggled for a consistent effort defensively. There was some confusion on rotations as Atlanta had a new attack after Tuesday's beatdown.
This is a series now. The Magic are up 2-0, but the Hawks should feel some confidence that they have cracked part of the code. Either way, Orlando is not going to win this thing as easily as Game One had us believe. Atlanta will not go down without a fight, and going home will give them a big boost.