ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—On the brink of elimination, Magic players were still lamenting what has been plain to see for anyone watching Orlando’s first-round playoff series against Atlanta.
They can’t put the ball in the basket.
Now facing a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series, time has just about run out for the Magic to shake off their shooting woes. The series swings back to Orlando Tuesday for Game 5 with the Magic on the brink of suffering their first opening round playoff exit since 2007.
History is not on Orlando’s side.
Only eight teams in NBA history have won a best-of-seven series after falling into a 3-1 hole. The Magic have barely shown flashes of the team that averaged 99 points per game during the regular season and was in the top of the league in both field goal and 3-point shooting percentage.
The Magic are averaging just 90.3 points and three of their go-to outside threats—Jameer Nelson(notes), Hedo Turkoglu(notes) and Redick—are all shooting less than 35 percent from the field, none more than 23 percent from beyond the arc.
As a team, the Orlando is shooting 40 percent from the field and just 20 percent from the 3-point line in the series. The Hawks are at 44 and 39 percent, respectively.
It is almost a complete reverse from Orlando’s Eastern Conference semifinals sweep of Atlanta last season when the Magic shot 53 percent overall (39 percent from three-point range), compared to 37 percent from the field and (29 percent from beyond the arc) for the Hawks.
Coach Stan Van Gundy said his team got makable shots in Game 4, but that the mental side of things is what must be overcome.
“On an individual basis as guys are struggling, the mentality becomes ‘I gotta get myself going,”’ he said. “And so guys are really hunting out shots and I think taking tougher ones because of that…You’ve gotta trust the teammates instead of the idea that we need some heroics.”
In Sunday’s 88-85 loss, the Magic set a new NBA low for 3-point percentage by a team in a playoff game, connecting on just 2 for 23 attempts. Some of that is poor shot selection, but the Hawks defense has certainly played a role and fueled their confidence.
“We’re doing a great job on the 3-point line,” Hawks forward Josh Smith(notes) said. “We’ve got to keep that up, just keep doing a good job at everything: Helping each other at defensive end, share ball at the offensive end. If we do that, think we’ll be OK.”
Atlanta also remains content to live with Howard’s big numbers and have defended the perimeter just well enough to throw Orlando off. It’s also had an unbelievable effort from reserve Jamal Crawford(notes).
With his team-high 25-point effort in Game 4 Crawford became the first bench player to score 20 or more points in the first four games of a series since Kevin McHale did it for Boston in 1991.
There were some trouble signs for Atlanta in Game 4, though.
Aside from letting the Magic back the game after building a 16-point lead, Atlanta also at times reverted back into the isolation-based offensive sets that have gotten it into trouble at times. They also did a poor job down the stretch of managing possessions.
It’s why Hawks coach Larry Drew said ending the series as soon as possible is paramount.
“It’s very important,” Drew said. “I’m always talking about this team growing. To me, them positioning themselves like they are right now to go into Orlando and to finish this thing off, that’s a huge step in our growth process…Particularly after what they did to us last year…it left a bad taste in our mouths.”
The wildcard in Game 5 may center on who wasn’t there in the previous game for both teams.
Richardson has also struggled to score in this series, but his presence at least increases the chances that somebody in a Magic uniform will have a good shooting night. Like Howard, he doesn’t feel it’s the best approach for the Magic to go into Tuesday thinking about a “must-win.”
“That’s the kind of team we have and the type of guys we have. If we’re uptight and worried about this or worried about that, we never play at our best. We’re at our best when we’re playing loose.”
Pachulia’s return could be more vital, as he has done one of the most serviceable jobs off the bench banging around underneath with Howard. He said now is not the time to admire what they’ve accomplished so far, though.
“We still have one more game to win,” Pachulia said. “But it definitely will give us a great advantage to finish this series Tuesday. The last two years, we went to 7 game series it was very hard. We didn’t have any off time to get any rest. Going to second round tired and banged up is not a good idea.”
AP Sports Writer Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this report.