May 5, 2010, 12:22 AM EDT
That was THE statement game of the playoffs.
Everyone keeps on assuming that we are destined for a Cleveland vs. Los Angeles Finals, Kobe and LeBron. Just like everybody assumed that we were going to get that last year.
Orlando is here to remind you they were the best team in the East last year and they are a better team this year. The regular season is nice and all, but the Magic are built for the playoffs.
They sent a message by demoralizing and demolishing Atlanta 114-71 in game one.
The game was actually close through one quarter (27-25 Orlando) but the seeds of destruction had been sewn. Orlando was shaking off the rust, and their defense was starting to really come around. Dwight Howard had four blocks early (he finished with five) and soon the Hawks were no longer cutting to the basket but relying on isolation, which led to long jump shots. And misses.
Midway through the first quarter, Atlanta coach Mike Woodson took out his starting center in Al Horford, with the theory that he could later match him up against Magic backup center Martin Gortat and exploit that matchup. But he replaced Horford with the zombie that is Jason Collins, and suddenly Howard went to work. Collins committed two fouls and was out of the game again almost before he was announced.
Zaza Pachulia came in, but Howard just started backing him down for dunks. So the Hawks started to aggressively double Howard in the post — and now you have played right into the hands of the Magic. A kick out pass, the extra pass and JJ Redick or Jameer Nelson or someone is just draining open threes.
The Magic went on a 17-0 run in the second quarter and won the quarter 28-10. The Hawks were 4 of 17 shooting in the quarter with seven turnovers (which led to easy transition baskets).
The third quarter was worse, the Magic won that one 32-11 as lanes opened for Magic players to cut to the hoop, get the pass and have nobody at the rim to stop them. The Magic scored 32 points in the paint in those two quarters alone. Howard finished with 21, Vince Carter with 20, Nelson with 19. And they sat a lot.
Game two is not going to be exactly like this. The Hawks cannot play this bad again. But in their regular season matchups less severe versions of this same scenario played out. The Magic have a starting five that can best the Hawks starting five, and the Magic bench blows Atlanta out of the water. The Magic have matchup advantages they can easily exploit, while Howard takes away the easy baskets the Hawks try to get off their mismatches.
The Magic have made a statement. The Hawks were simply the vehicle. The Cavaliers were the intended recipients.