The Atlanta Hawks went into the Orlando Magic's home arena on Sunday and utterly dominated a Magic team that basically had only two guys going. Dwight Howard set a franchise playoff record with 31 first half points en route to finishing with 46 and Jameer Nelson netted 20 in the third and finished with 27. But the rest of the team absolutely, positively struggled.
Howard and Nelson shot 63-percent (26-for-41) in the contest while the rest of the Magic were about as cold as the reception you'd get from your wife if you forgot your anniversary. They made just eight field goals in 34 tries for a very ungood 24-percent from the field.
The result was a 103-93 win by the Hawks in a game that most expected to be all Magic.
Keep in mind that these so-called "experts" that haven't given the Hawks much of a chance are the same guys who would rather have the tube on some game involving LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Best Team Ever* (to finish in second place behind the Chicago Bulls), Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers or the love affair between Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and the new Best Team Ever* -- the New York Knicks.
They simply haven't studied this season's history between two "second tier" teams in the Hawks and the Magic.
If they watched, like we have here at SB Nation Atlanta, they would have realized that a pattern is certainly developing every single time Orlando and Atlanta take the floor this season.
The Hawks front Howard, hack Howard and make Howard's touches difficult. Yes, the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year gets his touches and his share of rebounds, but he also gets frustrated and doesn't hit at the same clip that he generally does. Howard, who told reporters that he ESPECIALLY hates losing to the Hawks, lets the pressure get to him, commits and extra foul or two and ends up in foul trouble.
That plays to Atlanta's advantage.
Atlanta won Game One on Sunday not because of stellar defense on Howard. Yes, they frustrated him a bit, but he got his touches and was even better than usual from the free throw line. The Hawks won because also shut down the Magic's dangerous perimeter game. By keeping Orlando's secondary players outside of Nelson pretty much off the scoreboard, they forced Howard to expend way more energy than he needed to. He was gassed a bit by the third quarter.
Obviously, coach Stan Van Gundy is going to try to make adjustments and get his help guys like Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas wide open looks. Orlando's best bet is to get Atlanta scrambling on defense and desperate on offense because we all know when that happens -- this dispirited bunch of Hawks is likely to play outside of their game, start jacking up ill-advised jumpers and lose the transition game.
The Hawks basically want to stick to the same game plan they did in Sunday's win. Play inside-out instead of outside-in, Pound the paint. Take it to Howard in the post and attack him on the other side of the floor, cover Howard's supporting cast like a glove and play good help defense.
The big X-factor for Game Two is the health of Josh Smith. J-Smoove sprained his shooting elbow in Game One's win. While it's not enough to keep him out of Tuesday's matchup, it will be interesting to see if he can bring the same intensity on both ends of the court that he and the rest of the team did in Sunday's win.
While Al Horford may be the emotional leader for the Hawks, Smith is the leader of the team's defense on the floor. The Hawks need Smoove to shake off the injury and bring it on Tuesday if Joe Johnson, Zaza Pachulia and the rest of the resurgent Hawks want to go back to Atlanta up 2-0.