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.
The only real question was would it be one game or two.
The answer is one. The league announced a one-game suspension for both Zaza Pachulia of Atlanta and Jason Richardson of Orlando for their scuffle in the fourth quarter of Game 3 Wednesday. Both will sit out Game 4 Sunday.
The whole thing started when Pachulia gave a hard but clean foul to Dwight Howard as he went in to score, and Howard gave Zaza a sneaky little elbow back to the face on the follow through (Howard did get a deserved technical for that once the refs saw the video). Pachulia — a perennial instigator — stood up to Howard and that is when Richardson rushed in to protect the Magic star. The scuffle itself was a lot of open handed nonsense.
Usually, you would call this trade a win for Atlanta — it loses a backup center who doesn’t play a big role, Orlando loses its third leading scorer and a starter. Except, Richardson has been terrible shooting this series — 26.7 percent from three — and J.J. Redick will replace him. Who has brought more energy the last few games but is just 1-of-9 from three. So this could work out for Orlando. Or not.
Game 4 pretty much is a must-win on the road for the Magic, who trail the Hawks 2-1 in the series.
Orlando is in trouble.
They are down 2-1 to the Atlanta Hawks, a team that through the regular season and into the playoffs has shown its matchup advantages are hard for Orlando to overcome. Now the Magic face a virtual must-win Game 4 and likely will have to do it without Jason Richardson, who probably will get suspended for his little run in with Zaza Pachulia in Game 3.
There are a lot of people blaming Orlando’s roster-changing trades in November as the root of the problem.
Unless you think Vince Carter could solve the Magic’s woes, that theory doesn’t really work. And if you think Vince Carter changes this series, your issues may require professional help.
Orlando traded one roster that was going to lose early in the playoffs on for another.
The Magic would have gotten about as much out of Rashard Lewis as they are Gilbert Arenas. Orlando GM Otis Smith had more faith in Arenas than anyone else, and that hasn’t worked out, but Lewis was already becoming a ghost on this roster. Marcin Gortat would have given the Magic depth in the paint and allowed Stan Van Gundy to cut Howard’s minutes from the 46 a game he has played this series to maybe 38 or so (he wouldn’t go much lower) but that is not a series changer.
The Magic brought in guys who were supposed to get them through a series like this easily. Orlando certainly expected more out of Jason Richardson in the playoffs (8.7 points per game and he’s shooting 26.7 percent from three). Hedo Turkoglu has been worse, and we’re not just talking about that disaster of a last play the Magic ran in Game 3. Turkoglu was always a pretty average player who Van Gundy understood how to use well, but he has not found room this series
Orlando as a team is shooting 26 percent from three, the Hawks are doing a good job contesting the arc (because they can single-cover Howard with Jason Collins and others). When Orlando can’t hit threes, their offense falters. The guys Orlando got in this deal are not doing the job.
But if you think that Carter and Lewis were changing things you are sorely mistaken. The only real difference between this roster and the last one is that this one is more expensive long term.
Which might have Dwight Howard thinking about things. But that is another issue for another day.