The dynamics of this series — the dynamics that put the Atlanta up 3-1 and give them to close out Orlando on Thursday night at home in Game 6 — have not changed.
Atlanta will largely single-cover Dwight Howard and he will put up impressive numbers. Hedo Turkoglu will stink. Jamal Crawford will again have Hawks fans wondering where this guy has been hiding all season. Jason Richardson will hobble due to stitches on his foot.
One thing was different in Game 5 — Orlando knocked down its threes. The Magic shot 36.6 percent on threes in the regular season then 21 percent through the first four games of this series. Atlanta, because they can single-cover Howard with Jason Collins, does a better job than most defending the arc, but Orlando was just missing. The regression to the mean was coming.
It arrived in Game 5 when Orlando hit 11 of 26 (42.3 percent) from beyond the arc.
Put simply, if the Magic can do that again they will force a Game 7 Saturday. If they revert to shooting in the 20s, well, there are a lot of nice golf courses in the Orlando area.
Al Horford and Josh Smith have both been impressive this series for the Hawks, balancing out the beast that is Dwight Howard. J.J. Redick returned to form in Game 5 for the Magic and started to balance out Crawford, who may be the best player in this series so far.
It’s Game 6, there are no more secrets. If Atlanta can create some turnovers and use missed three-pointers by Orlando to lead to some easy transition points, they are advancing to face Chicago. If Orlando takes care of the ball and the threes are falling, everyone is heading back to Orlando for Game 7.
It seems both obvious and simple to say that this game and this series will come down to made shots, but there it is.
Tuesday afternoon, Orlando’s Jason Richardson stepped on some glass at home, resulting in seven stiches on his left foot, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Tuesday night, playing through pain, he had his best game of the first round leading the Magic with 17 points.
There is no truth to the rumor that Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson plan to hold him down and put stitches in his other foot before Gam 6 Thursday.
As you might imagine, Richardson said playing through the injury hurt. He may be limited during Wednesday’s practice but he will go Thursday night, he said.
The reason the Atlanta Hawks are up 3-1 in this series and can close out the Orlando Magic tonight — and the difference between the 2009 Magic that went to the finals and the 2011 Magic about to be eliminated in the first round — was summed up nicely by Stan Van Gundy (via ESPN):
“We don’t have the Jamal Crawford or a Joe Johnson, guys who can break you down off the dribble,” Van Gundy said in what seemed like a subtle swipe at his limited roster.
I don’t think it was that subtle.
The core of what the Magic did was always Dwight Howard inside and three point shooters outside. But back in 2009 there was always Hedo Turkoglu having the playoffs of his life, creating shots off the pick-and-roll and when simple post plays work. And Hedo was draining long contested threes.
This series, the Magic are shooting 22 percent from three as a team. Maybe tonight is the night that damn breaks open and threes rain down from the sky in Orlando. But, we’ve been waiting for that storm for four games.
We’ve also been waiting for Jamal Crawford to cool off for four games. After a season where he struggled he’s back to doing a lot of isolation and having a lot of success. Atlanta has gone away somewhat from the motion offense Larry Drew tried to put in and back to more isolation. Which works because they have a lot of isolation players, it turns out.
For one game, I expect the Magic will make enough threes, play with enough desperation and find a way to eek out a win in this series. But whether they can do it again in a Game 6 in Atlanta? That would take a trip back in time a couple years.