Faced with playoff elimination, the Orlando Magic responded with a 101-76 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, keeping their season alive and drawing to within one game of the Hawks, 3-2, in their best-of-seven series. Though only three Magic players finished in double-figure scoring, six more scored at least 7 points, which indicates the sort of balance with which the Magic dispatched the Hawks. Jason Richardson scored 17 points to lead Orlando, while J.J. Redick put in 11 of his 13 in the first period with Dwight Howard saddled with two personal fouls, giving the Magic all the separation they needed to keep Atlanta at bay.
The Hawks got 22 points and 11 rebounds from Josh Smith, both game-highs, but otherwise struggled on both ends of the floor. Jamal Crawford, the player who's tipped the balance in the Hawks' favor to date by scoring 20-plus points off the bench in each of the first four games, shot 2-of-8 for 8 points, with Orlando outscoring the Hawks by 30 points in the 25 minutes he was on the floor.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.
Speaking of regression to the mean, Orlando finally managed to connect from the outside consistently. Two nights after setting a dubious record for three-point inaccuracy, it shot 11-of-26 from deep. The sorts of looks didn't change exactly--though the Hawks did have a nasty habit of leaving the corners open Tuesday, something they haven't done too often, which allowed Richardson to seam up the ball before firing in one fourth-quarter three--only the results did.
And Atlanta played the same sort of offense it has all series: heavy isolation with the occasional pick-and-roll. Smith did his best to exploit his athletic advantages over Hedo Turkoglu, resulting in a number of forays to the basket rather than settled-for jumpers, but his teammates did not share that mentality. Joe Johnson shot 2-of-12, and he took just two of those, by my unoffical tally, within 10 feet of the hoop.
Tonight's game represents what some folks expected might happen in this series: the Magic tear the Hawks apart with Howard inside and the three-point shooters outside, while Atlanta clanks jumper after jumper. That summation is a bit reductive, I admit, but when one considers the Magic's convincing sweep of the Hawks last season, as well as the Hawks' six-game losing skid to end the regular season and their negative point differential, it's not too terribly far off the mark.
But nobody could have counted on Orlando's unbearably bad three-point shooting to date, even accounting for the Hawks' fourth-ranked three-point defense. Nor could anyone have known Crawford would become the first reserve in six seasons to score 20-plus points in four straight games, or that Hedo Turkoglu would shoot worse than every volume-volume shooter since 1995. All those factors set the stage for the Magic fighting to stay alive Tuesday in just their fifth game this postseason.
The Magic got just 8 points, 8 boards, and 29 minutes tonight from Howard, who scored just one basket. They didn't need any more than that; in fact, they could have done with less.
But let me make this much clear: the pressure is still on the Magic. I've never bought the idea that the underdog, with a 3-2 lead heading back home for Game Six, faces more pressure knowing that, if they lose, they'll have to win a Game Seven on the road. I didn't believe it when Orlando was in this position against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009 and I don't believe it now. The Hawks have margin for error. They can afford to lose again, and the Magic cannot. Not to get all Mainstream Commentator on you, but Orlando has to put this game behind it as fast as possible and stay focused. And yes, I know there's nothing of substance, no insight, in the previous sentence.
There's another point I'd like to make, this one regarding the Hawks' attitude. In past years, they rolled over whenever trailing big against Orlando, probably because it happened so often. I didn't notice the same dynamic at play tonight. They didn't exactly dig deep and make a huge run or anything like that, but they didn't look bored or mopey, either.
In fact, they still had some fight in them. Zaza Pachulia, coming off a one-game suspension for head-butting Richardson in Game Three, intentionally fouled Howard from behind late in the third period, bringing both arms down on Howard's shoulders and making no attempt on the ball. It was a dirty foul which lead referee Joey Crawford decide was not worthy of a flagrant call, prompting a classic rant from Magic coach Stan Van Gundy in his post-game press conference.
I would list Hilton Armstrong's senseless foul given as the Magic tried dribbling the clock out to end the game, but really, that's not worth mentioning. I don't know why he gave it, but can only speculate he wanted the standing ovation at Amway Center to stop.