The Magic avoided an emotional letdown from their 43-point victory in Game 1, dominating the Hawks in the second half of Game 2 to take a 112-98 victory Thursday and a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.
1. Balanced approach, balanced scoring. As much as the Magic players have complained about coach Stan Van Gundy constantly haranguing them this year, it was Van Gundy's persistent harping about getting overconfident in the wake of their lopsided Game 1 win that kept their egos in check. Granted, the Hawks were able to take an eight-point second-quarter lead for a brief period. But in the second half, the Magic looked like the mid-'90s Magic, when Shaquille O'Neal dominated the middle and Nick Anderson, Dennis Scott and Penny Hardaway were launching from the perimeter. With Atlanta unable to match up with Dwight Howard, it left Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Mickael Pietrus and Jameer Nelson to bomb away. In all, four Orlando players scored at least 20 points.
2. Vinsanity. Carter scored only four points in the first half, looking like the shrinking violet of Playoffs Past. But he went for 20 in the second half, pulling up for sharp threes, making powerful drives to the basket, even adding some of the acrobatic forays of his youth. This was the reason the Magic chose to trade for Carter rather than re-sign Hedo Turkoglu, and if Carter continues to perform at the level he did in the last 24 minutes, they very well could return to the NBA Finals.
3. Don't tug on Superman's cape. Howard, an MVP finalist, is the most physically dominant player in the league, and while the Hawks ultimately overpowered the Bucks in the first round, that is the treatment they are getting from Howard in this series. He is simply too big and too strong for anybody the Hawks can throw at him -- and one has to wonder exactly how wonderful a Howard-Andrew Bynum or Howard-Pau Gasol battle in the Finals would be. Howard scored 18 points in the first quarter by jumping over Atlanta. He got into foul trouble in the second quarter, but he ended the game with 29 points, 17 rebounds and a block. Even more impressive, he made 13-of-18 free throws after struggling so much in the first round.
4. Bad body language. Even though they were within striking distance for most of the game, the Hawks appeared to be defeated as soon as the Magic made a 9-0 run at the start of the second half. It is perhaps the same reason that Atlanta dropped two consecutive games to the Bucks after outclassing them in the first two games of the first round. Yes, the Hawks are going back to Philips Arena, where they won 34 of 41 regular-season games this year and where they play so much better than they do on the road. But they will need more than a change of venue to avoid the death sentence of going down three games to none, particularly since three of their last eight games against Orlando have been losses by at least 30 points.
5. Scary moment. In the 2001 playoffs, Lewis, then playing for the Seattle SuperSonics, got caught up with San Antonio's Malik Rose and suffered a subluxation of his shoulder, something Lewis has worked diligently to strengthen throughout his career. It still bothers him on occasion, though, so when he sustained a hard impact in the second quarter and spent the remaining minutes of the first half tugging at the shoulder, it could have proved disastrous for Orlando. Lewis played in the second half and hit a big three-pointer in the fourth quarter, but it is something that bears watching if the shoulder stiffens up overnight.
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