No one ever said that it was going to be easy. However, if Orlando goes on to defeat Atlanta in the series, then the Hawks may look back at Game 2 as one that they had a chance to win but let slip away. Atlanta started this game much like Game 1 ended. They did nice job defensively forcing Dwight Howard into turnovers and looked to have a plan on offense where Josh Smith was having an impact on the interior against Hedo Turkoglu. Even without Al Horford, who was sitting out after two quick fouls, Atlanta was working hard on offense with Jamal Crawford picking up the slack.
The Hawks built as big as a 10 point lead before things started to slip in the second quarter. Foul trouble to Jason Collins, and Zaza Pachulia left Atlanta very small in the front court and essentially powerless against Howard who like a shark, smelled blood in the water. The result was a 32 point quarter for the Magic and a total destruction of the Hawks on the backboard. The Hawks only trailed by six at halftime but gone was the momentum that was there midway through the quarter.
A couple of things jumped out at me during the second quarter. First and foremost was the decision to sit Al Horford with two personal fouls. We saw Drew employ this tactic early on in the season but it makes little sense at this juncture in my opinion. One of the main reasons for starting the big lineup was to relieve the burden of guarding Dwight Howard from Horford's shoulders. If he is not guarding Howard then he is less likely to be put in positions to pick up fouls at a high rate. Horford is as important to Atlanta's offense as Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. It is hard to imagine either Johnson or Smith being confined to the bench for an entire second quarter with two fouls. Horford deserves that same respect and confidence.
Sitting Horford at this stage is like playing not to lose rather than playing to win. Larry Drew has to send him back out in the second quarter and trust that Horford can play knowing that he has two fouls. He finished the game with those same two fouls and never was pressed into guarding Howard. What his long stint on the bench seemed to do was take him completely out of his rhythm for the second half while also contributing to the stagnation of the Atlanta offense. I understand what Drew was thinking with the move. If he could have somehow made it to halftime with the lead and the momentum without Horford then Atlanta would have most certainly been sitting in a nice spot. However, it didn't turn out that way and at this point it is a bigger risk than sending the player with probably the highest basketball IQ on the team back onto the floor with two personals.
The second thing that jumped out at me was much less significant but I find puzzling nonetheless. Etan Thomas was in street clothes in this game with Hilton Armstrong taking his place on the active roster. Thomas wasn't good by any means in Game 1 however, it was the thought of playing Orlando that was said to be the reasoning for signing him. He brings six fouls to the table and a perceived toughness that is a thousand times greater than Armstrong can provide. If Thomas can't play against the opponent that was the sole reason for signing him, then what is he still doing on the roster? If Thomas is hurt then I will retract this point but I thought the whole reason for including players like Thomas on the roster was to go up against the likes of Dwight Howard.
The numbers were ugly across the board for Atlanta save nice performances from Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith. Crawford finished with 25 points on 8-17 shooting to lead Atlanta. Josh Smith added 17 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Al Horford finished with a double double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in only 26 minutes of action. The Magic threw double teams at Joe Johnson all night as he finished with 14 points and five assists. Atlanta was out rebounded by a count of 52-39 including 20-13 advantage on the offensive boards. The Hawks would have had a much harder time staying as close as they did were it not for 16 Orlando turnovers.
Amazingly Atlanta found itself only down two points after an Al Horford dunk with just 2:13 to go in the game. An awkward Turkoglu lay up and a stagnant offensive possession from Atlanta sealed the Hawks fate as Jason Richardson nailed a three the next trip down. As bad as the Hawks played, they were still right there with just two minutes to go in the game.
Atlanta need not hang their head after this defeat. After all they stole one game in Orlando and return home with the series tied 1-1. In Game 2 they lost to a 50+ win team who were pretty desperate. Officiating plays a big part in all NBA games and Atlanta self inflicted enough damage in Game 2 to not completely lay the blame at the feet of the officials. Although it is an almost absurd thought that Dwight Howard can play 48 minutes without fouling out given the amount of moving screens he sets each every game.
Had Atlanta shown up on the boards and had Al Horford not played only half a game, they could very well have been heading home up 2-0 in the series. The important thing is that not only the players but the coaching staff learn from the loss and move on to Game 3. The NBA Playoffs are about adjustments and no one ever said that this was going to be easy.