ORLANDO, Fla. – The Atlanta Hawks looked liked anything but a postseason threat two weeks ago, trudging into the playoffs riding a six-game losing skid.
Now they can take a commanding 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series against the Orlando Magic.
"Oh yeah. We came here with the objective to get two games," Hawks center Jason Collins said when asked if taking two games on the road would be a "death blow" to the Magic. "We put ourselves in position and now we look forward to getting Game 2 on Tuesday night."
The Hawks' winning formula in the series opener was hot outside shooting, keeping their turnovers down and withstanding the Magic's runs.
Orlando's defense is designed to close out opponent's shooters on the perimeter and force them into the paint where they have to deal with Dwight Howard. The Magic didn't succeed at either, and now they say it's a must to even the series in Game 2.
"Our whole focus has been on protect the paint and they haven't been looking to get to the rim a whole lot," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Van Gundy said containing perimeter jump shots and the Hawks mid-range shots are their biggest concerns. He said he counted only eight layups for the Hawks in Game 1. For the game, Atlanta scored only 36 of their 103 points in the paint, but became the first opponent in 16 consecutive postseason games to score 100 points against the Magic
"Even the (Hawks') 51 percent (field goal percentage) was deceptive, because going into the fourth (quarter) they were at 58 percent and that's when the game was decided," Van Gundy said. "So they really had their way with us. And we've got to be a lot better defensively, no matter what we do offensively.
"If we're going to have to score 105 or 106 points every night to win, then we're gonna be in trouble."
The Hawks aren't likely to shoot close to 60 percent for most of Game 2, but they say they aren't relying on that.
Jamal Crawford, who had 23 points in Game 1, said it wasn't an anomaly that they shot so well. He said if don't do that again, Plan B isn't complex.
"Just to continue to do it with five guys," he said. "Continue to make the right play giving up good shots for great shots. That's why we shot such a high percentage. Guys passed up some good shots but we got great shots in the long run, we worked the clock well. We will continue to do things well that were successful for us."
That said, Hawks' coach Larry Drew noted that they can't depend on jumpers against a Magic team that has had two days to make tweaks to their approach.
"We don't want to be a team that relies on just shooting jump shots," Drew said. " ... We like to open the floor up. It won't be a situation of us just settling for the perimeter. We've got to find that balance of inside-out. As dominant as Dwight is on the inside, we can't shy away from taking the ball to the basket. We have to be the aggressor."
But clearly the Hawks' advantage is their size on the perimeter.
Van Gundy talked about the conversations he used to have with former NBA player Bob McAdoo while they were working together in Miami. He said McAdoo told him that playing against smaller opponents always gave him confidence because of the comfort zone he'd get in being able to shoot over them.
"No matter how hard (opponents) played, he knew he could just get his shot over the top and all he had to do was concentrate on making it. He didn't have to rush and adjust and the whole thing," Van Gundy said.
Van Gundy said the Hawks' shooters have similar matchups with Magic 6-foot point guard Jameer Nelson guarding Kirk Hinrich (6-4), and
Atlanta's Joe Johnson (6-7) and Crawford (6-5) both can shoot over J.J. Redick (6-4) when he is in the game.
And that's not even including Hawks' 6-10 power forward Al Horford, who had his way using the pick and pop to create space between he and Brandon Bass (6-8) to drill 15-foot jumpers.
It's why Howard, who earned his third-straight NBA Defensive Player of the Year award Monday, said Orlando's efforts will be put into making the Hawks find another way to beat them.
"It's not our goal to let guys who can shoot the ball well shoot it," Howard said. "We want to make them do something else. Jamal Crawford, he shot a lot of jump shots, we didn't force him to get to the basket and finish. The same thing with Joe Johnson, it was either floater from far away or a jump shot.
"So we've gotta make those guys do different things."