ORLANDO, Fla. -- An hour before tipoff of Tuesday's game against the Orlando Magic, Atlanta Coach Larry Drew was rolling through a discussion about defending Dwight Howard when the subject changed to the Hawks' motivation for this playoff series.
Drew changed, too.
The Hawks coach slowed his speech pattern to a crawl, choosing words carefully. He knows this series is as much about burying Atlanta's reputation as the "quittingest team in the NBA" as it is about advancing to the second round and he is anxious to erase the past.
"After the way Orlando manhandled us last season," Drew said, referring to a 4-0 thrashing the Magic put on Atlanta, winning by an average of 25 points a game in Round 2 of the 2010 playoffs, "I would hope we are motivated enough to show up for every game with a bad taste in our mouth."
The Hawks may have a bad taste in their mouth after losing 88-82 to allow Orlando to even the series at 1-1. Yet the way things played out, the result might have done more for the Hawks than the win did for the Magic.
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Atlanta trailed by 14 after Ryan Anderson's 3-pointer with 10:31 left in the game -- quitting time for last year's playoff team -- and was still down 12 with under six minutes to play. However, Josh Smith started the Hawks on a 10-0 run that Al Horford ended with a dunk to make it 78-76 with 2:14 left in the game.
"There is no quit in this ballclub this year," Smith said. "When adversity hits us in the face, we're not folding. We get up, get more aggressive and that is what really excites me about this team. We're eager to play, no matter what the score."
Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu stopped the rally with a driving layup that hung on the back of the rim for more than a second before finally falling down and Jason Richardson drilled a 3-pointer on the Magic's next possession to give the home team enough breathing room to coast to a win.
But Atlanta was hardly unhappy with its performance. The Hawks limited the Magic to 34.6 percent shooting overall and a miserly 21.7 percent (5 of 23) from three-point land. Throw out Dwight Howard's 9 of 12 shooting effort and the rest of the Magic were a combined 18 for 66, a humbling 27.7 percent.
"That is good enough defense to win most games," Drew said. "I really like what our guys are doing at that end and I don't expect any let up when we go home for the next two games."
The Magic, on the other hand, don't really know what to expect. They got another big night from Howard -- 33 points, 19 rebounds -- but it comes with an asterisk. The Magic center hit 15 of 19 free throws, which is 79 percent shooting from a guy who is a career 59.8 percent shooter. That is 41 free throws for the Magic center in two games, an indication Atlanta has no problem challenging Howard to make free throws rather than dunks.
He played all 48 minutes, after playing 46 minutes in Game 1. At that rate, he'll be dragging badly somewhere in the middle of what figures to be a long playoff series, a fact Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy won't dispute.
"Just the energy he puts into the game is incredible and I'm not just talking about numbers," Van Gundy said. "What he put into the game for 48 minutes at a game of that intensity is incredible. I'm sure he's glad that we have two days off."
Howard also had seven turnovers, which typically is the Magic's undoing, though not on this night. With virtually every possession in their half-court offense going through the All-Star center, Orlando relies on him to either score or find its perimeter shooters open for 3-point looks.
Howard wasn't looking for anyone else -- he didn't have an assist despite playing all 48 minutes -- and allowed Atlanta's guards to come back and pick at the ball every time he made a move into the lane.
"I have to be more aware of who is out there and stay down a little lower with the ball," Howard said. "I'll be ready when Game 3 comes around."
The Magic coaching staff, meanwhile, will continue to look for someone to hit a jump shot, any jump shot. Orlando's three perimeter starters -- Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson -- were a combined 11 of 43 from the field, including 3 of 15 from 3-point territory. Even sharpshooter J.J. Redick struggled off the bench, hitting only 1 of 6 shots and none of his three 3-point attempts.
"I look at these shooting numbers and I'm like 'Wow!'" Orlando coach Van Gundy said. "I know I said it a couple of times in timeouts: We're getting good shots.
"And our guys are great shooters. They're not going to continue missing shots. I've got to think at some point, we're going to knock a few down and things will open up."
The Hawks clearly think otherwise. Drew wasn't happy with the loss, but he saw enough things to convince him his team is not going to quit this time around.
"We played great defense, but gave them 20 offensive rebounds," Drew said. "We had too many turnovers and maybe missed a couple of shots we usually make. If we clean up the areas we need to clean up, I'm very confident with the rest of this series"