ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando Magic showed they could survive with Dwight Howard in chronic foul trouble. With him on the floor, they were dominant.
Howard had 21 points and 12 rebounds in one of the most dominant 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.
“We’re trying to accomplish something this year. We want to come out sharp, in tune with what needed to be done. We wanted to deliver the first blow,” Carter said. “We wanted to get in rhythm, for our intensity level more than anything to be at a really high-level.”
Josh Smith scored 14 points and Zaza Pachulia had 12 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 an embarrassing defeat.
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 head 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.
That 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.