By DEITRA P. JOHNSON (ADW Sports Editor)
Coach Larry Drew’s strategy in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference best-of-seven quarterfinal series against Orlando was simple. Man-up on Magic center Dwight Howard with a taller lineup in an effort to wear him down, while applying pressure on the perimeter shooters.
As it turns out, Drew’s tactics paid off, despite Howard finishing with 46 points in the opening game. In fact, Howard had a whopping 31 points in the first half, along with 19 rebounds.
But the rest of the Orlando squad could only manage a combined 17 points and nine rebounds in the first half, shooting 6-for-23 from the field. The Magic was 27.3 percent from beyond the arc on the night.
The first quarter was all Howard, with the 6-foot-11 post player scoring all of Orlando’s points until J.J. Redick hit a basket with 44 seconds remaining in the period.
In contrast, Atlanta mounted a balanced attack from all positions with Joe Johnson scoring 25 points, Jamal Crawford tossing in 23, Al Horford contributing 16, Josh Smith adding 15, and Kirk Hinrich pulling up the rear with 13.
The Hawks took a 55-48 into the locker room, and led by as much as 17 in the third quarter although Orlando’s Jameer Nelson scored 20 of his 27 points in the same period.
Entering the final stanza, Atlanta led 85-71 and went on to hold on for the win.
Series At 1-1
It took 48 minutes of play from center Dwight Howard, with only halftime and timeouts as resting periods, for the Orlando to register an 88-82 victory over Atlanta in Game 2 and even the series at 1-1.
The Magic turned a 10-point deficit into an 11-point fourth-quarter lead in holding off the Hawks. Orlando mounted a 10-1 run at the end of the third quarter to take a 65-54 into the fourth to hold on for the win.
With Atlanta center Al Horford sidelined due to foul trouble in the first half, and Magic Howard manning the middle with a one-man zone, Orlando outscored the Hawks in the paint, 28-14. Howard scored 33 points and pulled down 19 rebounds without any bench rest.
Jamal Crawford led Atlanta with 25 points.