Published May 04, 2010
| Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy turned to his assistant coaches on the Orlando Magic bench, unsure what to do with star Dwight Howard finally avoiding foul trouble and his team on his way to a blowout victory.
"Should I give Dwight a rest?" Van Gundy asked. "They said, 'No. Just let it ride.'"
What a ride it was.
Howard had 21 points and 12 rebounds in one of the most crushing playoff wins in Magic history, a 114-71 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Howard added five blocks and avoided the fouls and frustration that overwhelmed him in the first round, helping the Magic go ahead by as many as 46 points. Vince Carter finished with 20 points as Orlando showed no signs of rust after an eight-day layoff since sweeping Charlotte.
Maybe all Howard needed was some time to cool off.
"I still played about the same amount of minutes," Howard said, chuckling, because he wasn't needed much in the fourth. "The first round is over with."
Josh Smith scored 14 points and Zaza Pachulia had 12 points for a Hawks team that had little playoff poise. Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Thursday night in Orlando, and Atlanta will have to find some way to rally from such a paralyzing defeat.
"It's embarrassing," Hawks point guard Mike Bibby said. "They embarrassed us."
Only a 47-point win in the first round against Boston in 1995 was a larger margin of victory in a playoff game for Orlando. This was just one big Magic highlight reel.
Nothing riled up fans more than when Howard snatched a layup attempt by Smith in the air, pulling down the ball with one hand. He threw the ball upcourt to Jason Williams, who lobbed a pass from just past midcourt for an alley-oop dunk to Mickael Pietrus that was part of 17 straight Magic points in the second quarter.
The arena was roaring so loud that, even after Hawks coach Mike Woodson called timeout and was on the floor pleading with officials for a goaltend, many players couldn't hear the whistle and continued.
Finally, somebody had to tell the Magic to stop.
"I think the challenge is not to get carried away with the score," Van Gundy said. "It was one of those nights where everything just snowballed."
Timeouts might have been Atlanta's only reprieve.
The Hawks were held to 10 points in the second quarter, and just 11 points in the third. Howard and most of the Magic starters weren't even needed in the fourth, and Atlanta players covered their heads with towels on the bench in the final minutes.
Fresh off a Game 7 victory against undermanned Milwaukee, the Hawks were outhustled and outmuscled at every step. The little more than 48-hour turnaround didn't keep them sharp, and they looked more like the team trying to get back in rhythm.
And they could do nothing to stop Howard.
"I didn't allow anything to throw me off my game," Howard said, adding that he made it a point not to engage officials about calls. "And I think that's what I have to do the rest of the series, just not let things take me off my game, just stay free and clear."
The Magic came out and hit the Hawks where it hurt — literally.
Howard grabbed a defensive rebound and swung his elbow to shake off Smith, hitting Atlanta's forward in the face. Howard was whistled for a foul, and Smith iced down his cheek on the bench during a break.
The Hawks didn't know what hit them.
"They made a run," Pachulia said, "and they never looked back."
That inside-outside game with Howard in the paint was the biggest reason Atlanta has struggled against its Southeast Division rival for several seasons. The Magic had taken six straight regular-season games in the series until the Hawks won on a buzzer-beating dunk by Smith in their last meeting.
"It was an ugly game for us," Woodson said of the latest defeat. "I wish I knew what happened."
Howard and Co. weren't taking any chances this time.
If the NBA's two-time defensive player of the year can avoid foul trouble, it could be another quick second-round stint for Atlanta. The Hawks were swept by Cleveland in the conference semifinals last year, and they'll need to find a way to slow down Howard to have any chance this time.
Van Gundy was already thinking about how his team could put the win behind them.
"I told them that (Wednesday) I will have for them virtually every time in NBA playoff history that a team had a blowout win, came back and lost the next game," Van Gundy said. "You've got to forget what happened."
NOTES: NBA commissioner David Stern announced earlier in the day that Orlando's new arena would host the 2012 All-Star game. ... The fewest points an opponent has ever scored against Orlando in a playoff game was 68. ... Actor Chris Tucker was among those in attendance.