Hawks surprise us again — this time by stunning Magic

It didn't matter what Dwight Howard did Saturday because Joe Johnson and the Hawks collectively did more, winning game one over Orlando.

It didn't matter what Dwight Howard did Saturday because Joe Johnson and the Hawks collectively did more in upset win.

(Updated: 10:45 p.m.)

ORLANDO – The Hawks have played like a case study for an abnormal psychology class all season, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by this.

They watched the opposing center beat them up for 31 points in the first half but didn’t blink. They hit only 8 of 22 shots in the first quarter, then morphed into something unfamiliar and wondrous (24 for 33 in the next two quarters). They took an 18-point lead on the road against a favored team that humiliated them a year ago and didn’t fold, like they had so often this year.

OK. Maybe you can be a little surprised.

In coach Larry Drew’s first playoff game as head coach, the Hawks took game one of their playoff series with the Orlando Magic 103-93 before a stunned Magic crowd at the Amway Center, and probably a stunned crowd of Hawks fans watched on television back in Atlanta.

Turns out there is hope after all.

So this is what it feels like.

Quoth Josh Smith, “We played with so much passion and desire, we willed this game.”

I know what you’re thinking. But it could be the up-and-down Hawks actually might do something special this postseason?

Expect nothing. Just let this mystery continue to unfold.

In game one of their second-round playoff series against Orlando last year, the Hawks trailed by 20 points at halftime and lost by 43 (114-71). The four-game sweep by the Magic was the most lopsided in NBA playoff history (four wins by a composite 101 points.

Dwight Howard was all smiles with 31 points in the first half, but the game changed significantly against the Hawks in the second half. (AP photo)

Dwight Howard was all smiles with 31 points in the first half but he scored only three in third quarter.

Not only did they win Saturday, they did so despite 46 points by Dwight Howard, feel proud of the way they beat him up.

It’s not every year a team starts the regular season with a six-game winning streak and ends it with a six-game losing streak. (Nothing like keeping you guessing.) It’s not every year a team makes the playoffs but is outscored. (The Hawks were the NBA’s only winning franchise with a negative point differential.)

They lost a home game to New Orleans by 41 points. They lost two other home games by at over 30 and nine overall by over 20 points. And yet, the Hawks beat Chicago and Boston and Orlando three out of four.

The late-season slide could at least in part be attributed to a players knowing that they were pretty much locked into the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed.

Now, if this was a team with any kind of a playoff resume, that wouldn’t be a problem. But teams like the Hawks don’t have a history of just turning it on in the postseason, and that’s something even coach Drew was concerned about. “I hope that’s the case,” Drew said before the game when asked about his team flipping a switch. “As long as I’ve been in the league, I’ve seen teams do it and I’ve seen teams that aren’t able to do it. Judging by what I’ve seen from our group, we’ve shown an ability to do that. I think it’s a little dangerous.”

But the Hawks shot 58 percent after the first quarter (30 for 52). They built the lead to 18 points at 91-73 with 8:44 left, saw it dwindle to 11, then nine at 94-83. But a jumper by Joe Johnson (25 points) and a dunk by Smith to finish a fast break cooled Orlando’s rally.

Nothing worked early in the first half against Howard. He had 31 points – the sting of which was diminished by the fact the Hawks led anyway, 55-48. Collins had two fouls early and then came out. He was replaced by Zaza Pachulia, who quickly was called for two fouls and came out. Howard did much of his damage against the non-dynamic duo of Etan Thomas and Josh Powell.

Howard clearly was getting irritated by the mugging. In the third quarter, he threw what appeared to be an intentional head-butt while backing into Collins, who hit the floor.

Collins drew his sixth foul with 6:33 left and the Hawks up by 17. I’ve never seen somebody get so many high-fives after six fouls and one point.

“Hey, I had two charges and a steal,” Collins cracked. “I do a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score.”

When asked if he got dizzy from Howard’s elbow, Collins said: “Yeah,” then looked at Kirk Hinrich shaking his head next to him and said, “No, no. Uh, I just needed a 20-second timeout. … I had to regroup. I wasn’t ready for that. I’m ready for elbows and arms but I’m not ready for a head butt.”

Could he tell that Howard was getting . . .

“Frustrated? Oh yeah, because we had a little conversation about it,” Collins said.

The tactics were clearly wearing on Howard. He didn’t score his first bucket of the second half until less than a minute remained in the third quarter, but picked up his fourth foul and a  technical for hauling down Pachulia.

It quickly became clear this would not mirror the second-round series of a year ago. There was hope for the Hawks after all.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

93 comments Add your comment

D Hawks

April 16th, 2011
9:54 pm

D Hawks

April 16th, 2011
9:56 pm

Even though I’ve been first before, I’ve never shouted about it. After watching a terrific Hawks performance tonight, I felt it was time to celebrate. If they can keep up that level of intensity and team play, this could actually be a fun playoff season for a change. Congrats to Coach Drew and the Hawks for a 1-0 start.

Bama 13

April 16th, 2011
9:57 pm

Interesting strategy and Great Effort for 48 minutes. Now let’s get greedy and take game 2!

JSS

April 16th, 2011
9:58 pm

Whew, finally after three long years the fans have waited for this kind on an effort on the road against a top-tier team in the East when it matters Three words from here on out: “Make It Happen!” The real “RISE UP” is finally back!

kbp

April 16th, 2011
9:58 pm

Great win! Now forget this one and get ready for Tuesday night.

jc_dawgs

April 16th, 2011
9:58 pm

If you can get Johnson and Smith to keep playing no quit basketball and to believe in this team…this can be a very dangerous Hawks team. Go Hawks!

grip

April 16th, 2011
9:59 pm

Let’s give credit where it is due. Larry Drew’s game plan was creative and executed to perfection, Kudos to JASON COLLINS, dude had the greatest 1pt game in NBA history. And MAX JOHNSON refused to settle for jumpers, he took the ball inside where he could attempt some floaters and even drew a couple of fouls tonight. And finally will the nah sayers get off of Kirk’s back, dude dominated Jamer Nelson for the entire first half, we kicked there buts.

GTBoro

April 16th, 2011
10:00 pm

Nice win! Keep it up, Hawks.

dwight howard | Trendy News

April 16th, 2011
10:02 pm

[...] howard Author: admin April 17, 2011 Kansas City StarHawks open playoffs with a stunner, defeat MagicAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Dwight Howard was all smiles with 31 points in first half, but [...]

dave

April 16th, 2011
10:08 pm

who could have seen this coming?

sweep? j/k.

mikey

April 16th, 2011
10:09 pm

Stunner? 3/4 +1 = Stunner? Get real.

5150WTGW

April 16th, 2011
10:09 pm

Yes, the NBA told Orlando to lose so now Crazy Hawks Fan will buy some Playoff tickets.

Gwinnett Fred

April 16th, 2011
10:12 pm

Well, after 3 years of fans yawning at 50+ regular season wins then bitching about losing in the playoffs – maybe this year we will have fans bitching about the regular season and then eating crow in April & May.

All I know is that for one rare playoff night, the team did themselves proud.

P.S. – I can watch a game with Hubie Brown announcing if it was 7 year old girls playing – he is the best analyst I have ever listened to. If you really want to LEARN about the game, he is THE MAN!!

GO HAWKS – LET’S GET THE BULB FILLED THIS FRIDAY!!!!!!!!!!!

will

April 16th, 2011
10:12 pm

EW

April 16th, 2011
10:13 pm

Awesome win! But did you hear Hubie Brown break down the Hawks’
strengths and weaknesses? Dude needs a contract!

Rick Sund

April 16th, 2011
10:14 pm

I have been telling you fans all season. We have UPSIDE. Remember our goal is IMPROVEMENT. If we win this series and win ONE game in the SECOND ROUND, we would have accomplished our goal. You fans now see why we are an ELITE team. We are having a special CHIK FILA FAMILY NIGHT for game three. Look forward to seeing you there.

puff

April 16th, 2011
10:16 pm

Thought Turkoglu would go off with 3s. Happy to be wrong.

JP3

April 16th, 2011
10:16 pm

Finally we saw the HAWKS and not the Canaries.

Harry Hawk

April 16th, 2011
10:18 pm

Hawks knocked their shots down tonight. When they do that, they look like they can beat anybody. When they don’t, they look like a 20-win team.

Dawglasville

April 16th, 2011
10:18 pm

Well… it was a great win. I’m still not sold and think they could lose in 5. They did show heart. Wait, I can’t believe I wrote that. It was nice not having to watch Bibby’s matador defense in a playoff game.

moorman

April 16th, 2011
10:18 pm

hawks played with a lot of heart today. they looked like they just took the regular season off, and just was waiting for the playoffs. josh smith STAYED in the paint, they hustled as a team, played their roles. good win….

Peter in MN

April 16th, 2011
10:18 pm

Well when it comes to the Hawks you’ve got to expect the unexpected. When it closed to 91-82 at the 3:00 mark my jaws tightened up a bit but I was wrong. Great effort but of course now we’ll rightfully ask “Why don’t they play with this type of effort more often?”

Abe the Fan

April 16th, 2011
10:19 pm

Great win Hawks! Don’t get our hopes up for nothing! I am afraid you’re not going to be able to hit the shots like you did tonight and will not know how to play an inside game and then get down on yourselves. Please, prove me wrong.

TechNut

April 16th, 2011
10:20 pm

Awesome. F the Magic and DH. Win another there and the series is ours.

Gwinnett Fred

April 16th, 2011
10:21 pm

And yet, the Hawks beat Chicago and Boston and Orlando three out of four.

=================================================

Jeff, you might be getting a little too generous with this statement. Yes, the beat Boston & Chicago, but also lost to them 5 times – hardly anything to brag about.

I mean the lowly Charlotte Bobcats even beat Chicao & Boston TWICE each, so the Hawks beating them ONCE shouldn’t exactly make you scratch your head in amazement of this great achievement.

chuck

April 16th, 2011
10:23 pm

You can only push “upside” for so long. We aren’t the young hawks anymore. The window is closing and the fans know it, thus the apathy. Prove me wrong Hawks!

Poobear Jenkins

April 16th, 2011
10:26 pm

hawks win = Business Like

BoricuaHawk

April 16th, 2011
10:28 pm

Waiting for the headlines on nba.com & espn.com about how great Howard’s game was and the Hawks win as secondary news! It’s been a long time coming to finally be on the side of the over-performer’s team. Hope to repeat this 3 more times. Hoping for a competitive playoff run…for a change!

XBOX

April 16th, 2011
10:28 pm

Achievement Unlocked (Hawks): Steal Game 1.

Buddy Grizzard

April 16th, 2011
10:37 pm

Not stunned. Hawks in 7.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Mike W

April 16th, 2011
10:43 pm

Lets keep it up hawks.Time to move on to game two and see if we can steal that one(Hopefully we will have same mindset)

Mike W

April 16th, 2011
10:47 pm

Lets keep it up hawks.Time to move on to game two and see if we can steal that one(Hopefully we will have same mindset).Not suprised hawks won game 1 in series

LakeDawg

April 16th, 2011
10:48 pm

I’m stunned! The Hawks played hard and smart for 60 minutes and didn’t blink when the Magic mounted a little rally. I guess I’m going to have to adjust my prediction……Magic in 5.

Jeff Schultz

April 16th, 2011
11:01 pm

Folks — Just updated the column with some quotes. Terrific performance by Hawks obviously. This will be hard act to follow but who knows, Magic looked pretty frustrated during game and dejected after it.

Jeff Schultz

April 16th, 2011
11:02 pm

JSS — Pretty hard to feel inspired by that effort, especially on the road and especially in fourth quarter after Magic started to chip away at lead.

rollo lawson

April 16th, 2011
11:02 pm

Joe Johnson is on a mission. The guy is finally healthy and is ready to prove the naysayers wrong. If we continue to drive to the basket (Josh Smith especially) and share the ball, we will make it to the second round. Jamal, stay hot!!!

tom

April 16th, 2011
11:03 pm

“I know what your thinking.”

I think it’s supposed to be “I know what you’re thinking”?

atlantafanatic

April 16th, 2011
11:03 pm

If the Hawks beat Orlando, is Drew still the coach?

Jeff Schultz

April 16th, 2011
11:03 pm

Grip — All great points in Drew, Collins and Joe. … And yes, Hinrich did dominate Jameer Nelson in first half. As Drew pointed out after game, Nelson started hitting in second half when Hinrich was on bench.

Jeff Schultz

April 16th, 2011
11:04 pm

Mikey — Nobody picked Hawks to win this series, even with them taking 3 of 4 during the year. So yes, game 1 qualifies as a stunner.

Jeff Schultz

April 16th, 2011
11:05 pm

Gwinnett Fred — The point of that statement was that we’ve seen what the Hawks can do when they play well. We’ve seen their ceiling — even if too infrequently.

rollo lawson

April 16th, 2011
11:07 pm

Did anyone see Dwight Howard’s press conference afterwards? His body language said, “What else can I do? I have no help!! My teammates suck!!!” That midseason trade destroyed that team. Agent Zero’s game is ZERO and Richardson and Turkolug can’t guard anybody.

Neki

April 16th, 2011
11:07 pm

They say that Dwight was very pissed off about the performance that the team did. Even those fools as already having him in trade talks with Lakers and Nets. That will suck.

Jeff Schultz

April 16th, 2011
11:07 pm

Tom — Yes, and the beauty of posting online is it already has been corrected. (Good eye. Thanks.)

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Katherine

April 16th, 2011
11:12 pm

Congrats hawks!

Chris Goltermann

April 16th, 2011
11:17 pm

Fantastic piece Jeff. You absolutely summed up the feelings of every puzzled Hawks fan who at some point during tonight’s game, went to the sink and splashed their face with water to make sure they weren’t dreaming.. “Expect nothing. Just let this mystery continue to unfold.” You said it.

DawgNole

April 16th, 2011
11:22 pm

“Rick Sund” writes: “If we win this series and win ONE game in the SECOND ROUND, we would have accomplished our goal.”

That’s what’s wrong with this city. Forty-five years of pro basketball, and not once past the second round of the playoffs. And the goal is to win ONE game in the SECOND ROUND?! Unbelievable. Almost a half-century of pro sports in this city, and one championship to show for it. Thus the label “Losersville.” Be satisfied with less than the best and you will be less than the best–yet again.

JOKER

April 16th, 2011
11:23 pm

The Hawks are alive!