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In a competitive game that went back and forth until the fourth quarter, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Atlanta Hawks by the score of 112-98 to take a 2-0 series lead in the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals. Game 2 was a battle of stars, as the best players for each team stepped up. The four All-Stars led the way for the Magic, as Vince Carter had 24 points, Dwight Howard had 29 points on nine shots and 17 rebounds, and Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson each had 20 points and six assists. Two words can best describe the performances of Carter, Howard, Lewis, and Nelson — efficient and excellent. Al Horford led the way for the Hawks with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks.
Game 2 was a tale of two halves for Orlando.
In the first half, Atlanta played with a sense of urgency you’d expect from a team coming off a 43-point loss. The Hawks improved their execution, as well. Atlanta did a great job offensively of dribble penetrating, moving the basketball from side-to-side, and working the ball inside-out. The Hawks didn’t rely too much on the isolation sets that they’re so used to settling for when things aren’t going right for them. What aided Atlanta, too, was the fact that Howard got saddled with foul trouble early in the second quarter. As a result, the Hawks were very aggressive attacking the rim against back-up center Marcin Gortat and exploiting him at every turn. Especially Horford, who could do no wrong when matched up against Gortat.
Atlanta adjusted defensively, also. Instead of paying too much attention to Howard like they did in Game 1, the Hawks made a better effort of closing out the shooters for the Magic and running them off the three-point line whenever possible. The strategy worked. Sort of. Because Atlanta decided to concentrate on slowing down Orlando’s offense on the perimeter, things opened up for Howard in the post. In the first quarter, Howard went bonkers, as he scored 18 points on an array of righty hooks, layups, and alley-oop dunks. When Howard was fouled, as he was nine times in the period, he was able to go to the line and make most of his free-throws (a trend that would carry on the rest of the night).
Despite Howard’s impressive display on offense, though, the Magic were down eight points at halftime due to poor execution on both ends of the floor during the second quarter.
That changed quickly, however, as Orlando was able to jump out and retake the lead in the opening minutes of the third quarter with a 9-0 run before both teams engaged in the NBA’s equivalent of trench warfare. From the nine-minute mark until the end of the period, neither the Magic nor the Hawks held a lead greater than four points. But in the process, Atlanta was quickly falling back into the habit of playing one-on-one basketball and going away from what worked for them offensively in the first half.
As such, the Hawk’s offense turned stagnant — seem familiar? — in the fourth quarter and the Magic were able to turn a close game into a blowout before cruising to an easy victory by running the 2/5 pick and roll with Carter and Howard on almost every possession. Because Howard was having his way on the low block throughout the evening no matter who was defending him, Atlanta was forced to compensate and keep an extra eye on him as he was rolling to the basket. And because the Hawks almost always fought over the screen since they were concentrating on taking away the three-point shot the entire game, that opened things up for Carter offensively and he was able to make the Hawks pay by being an efficient playmaker.
That play was the difference in the fourth quarter and that play was the difference in Game 2.
Oh, and Carter’s one-handed fadeaway floater in the lane? Ridiculous.