Following Orlando’s humbling Game 1 loss to Atlanta, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said that if his team cut down its turnovers and played better defense, he felt like everything would be fine in Game 2.
His team only fulfilled half of that equation Tuesday night, but it was still enough to earn a victory.
Dwight Howard had 33 points and 19 rebounds, Jameer Nelson added 13 points and eight rebounds to help the Magic hold off the Hawks 88-82.
The Magic evened the best-of-seven series, with Game 3 Friday night in Atlanta.
Orlando used a 10-1 run to close the third quarter to take an 11-point lead into the fourth and fought off a late Atlanta charge down the stretch. The Magic struggled from the field shooting just 34 percent and had 16 turnovers. But they defended well.
After allowing the Hawks to become the first opponent in 16 straight playoff games to score 100 points against it in Game 1, Orlando’s defense tightened around Atlanta’s shooters in Game 2. The Hawks shot 39 percent.
”It’s not anything I did – our guys did it,” Van Gundy said when asked about the adjustments he made after Game 1. ”You gotta get out and take the challenge. … Every game sort of takes on a life of its own and you just gotta do whatever it takes to get the win on that night.”
The Magic overcame a 10-point first-half deficit en route to the win. It was Orlando’s largest comeback victory in the postseason since May 2009, when it overcame a 16-point deficit to beat Cleveland.
Jamal Crawford led Atlanta with 25 points and Josh Smith added 17, but they missed 15 shots between them and expended a lot more energy to get off attempts.
The Magic led 65-54 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Joe Johnson’s basket cut the lead to 78-72, and he got another following an Orlando turnover to trim it to four points with 2:43 to play.
A steal by the Hawks ended with a dunk by Al Horford to pull Atlanta within a basket. But Hedo Turkoglu got a friendly roll on a layup to push it back to four and Jason Richardson drilled 3-pointer that made it 83-76 with 1:08 remaining.
Crawford dropped in a layup that made it 84-80, but Orlando was able to hit enough free throws the rest of the way to secure the victory.
Howard played all 48 minutes in Game 2 and took 19 free throws. He played 45 minutes in Game 1.
”It’s tough,” he said. ”But you can’t think about that while you’re on the court. You can’t think about any pains. You just have to fight through it. … As much as I get hit and beat on during the game, I just think about what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Atlanta had 15 turnovers Tuesday, as Howard floated as a 1-man zone in the paint. It seemed to disrupt the Hawks’ offensive flow and helped Howard’s teammates close out on Atlanta’s jump shooters.
”That’s what great defensive players do,” Horford said. ”They get out there and it seems like they are everywhere. He does a good job of that.”
Orlando led 48-42 at halftime. The Hawks led by as many as 10 in the second quarter, 32-22, before a 12-2 run by the Magic tied it at 34-all. Howard had 10 points during the spurt, which included the Magic doing their best job of the series converting defensive stops into quick offense.
Atlanta, which shot 55 percent in the first half of Game 1, saw the figure drop to 38 percent in the opening quarters on Tuesday.
The Magic also shot 38 percent, but converted 16 of 19 free throw attempts. The Hawks had only five trips to the line in the first half and were dominated in the paint, 28-14.
Horford picked up two quick fouls in the game’s first 2 minutes and spent the rest of the half on the bench.
The Magic exploited his absence initially, taking the ball to the rim for a 10-6 lead. The Hawks closed the first quarter with a 16-6 run, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Crawford.
Orlando feels like it has great momentum heading into Game 3.
”Atlanta’s a team that if things aren’t really going their way, they’re going to struggle a little bit,” said Ryan Anderson, who led the Magic’s reserves with eight points. ”We’re different in a sense where if we’re down we kind of know how to fight our way back into it.”
Notes: Van Gundy said one of the biggest reasons Howard’s big performances don’t always garner national buzz could be the lack of an anticipated matchup. ”There’s no matchup for him that creates the excitement,” Van Gundy said. ”If you got back to when the centers were king, you have Chamberlain-Russell and people say ‘Wow, that’s a matchup you look forward to.’ Now people look forward to Chris Paul against Derrick Rose. … People have played good games against Dwight, but still, where’s the anticipated matchup?” … Howard’s 20-point second quarter tied the playoff franchise record for points in a quarter that Nelson set in Game 1. … Hawks reserve F/C Hilton Armstrong was activated for Game 2 after being inactive in Game 1. C Etan Thomas took his place on inactive list.