Jamal Crawford was waiting. His team had taken every punch the Magic could throw — both literally and figuratively. He waited, eyeing the clock and staring down Jameer Nelson with his team up one and the clock beginning to wind down.
Atlanta has had just about every answer for Orlando’s offense. The Hawks have found a way to get under the Magic’s skin in every way. Orlando has had none of the answers, feeling frustration as shots continued to miss and miss and miss.
Crawford embodied all the confidence the Hawks have had over the Magic in 2010-11. He had drawn (and you can argue whether Ryan Anderson actually hit him) a four-point play with about 8.5 minutes to play to give the Hawks a two-point lead and had scored 20 points, all in the final three quarters, to continue a fantastic postseason. If there was one player who knew he could take a shot and make it at any point, he had the ball in his hands.
When Jamal Crawford raised up and lifted over Jameer Nelson from the top of the key and banked in a 3-pointer with seven seconds left to give Atlanta a four-point lead, maybe nobody should have been surprised. The Hawks have taken the fight to the Magic all series and have left the Magic in the unfamiliar role of underdog fighting to prove they belong and chasing down a team they had previously dominated.
Orlando might be close in this fight. But down 2-1 in the series after Friday’s 88-84 loss, the Magic have their backs against the walls once again and need to win to regain homecourt advantage and avoid an elimination game on their home floor and an early exit from the postseason.
The Hawks are certainly no longer afraid of the Magic, as if winning six of the seven games the two teams have played this year have not shown that. They are willing to go toe-to-toe with the Magic and are forcing them to continue to be uncomfortable. Confidence is brimming with Atlanta while frustration is simmering with Orlando.
You could see it with Crawford’s long-range heave — and the numerous of end-of-shot-clock makes he and Joe Johnson (21 points on 9-for-23 shooting) have netted throughout the series.
You could also see it with Zaza Pachulia challenging Dwight Howard on every post up and every challenge. Pachulia and the Hawks were much more physical and agressive digging down on Howard, “holding” him to 21 points and 15 rebounds in the game. They were physical but did not foul as Howard went to the line only nine times (he had 41 free throw attempts in the first two games).
The physical play with no fouls may have finally gotten to Howard in the fourth quarter when he flung his elbow out and inadvertently(?) struck Pachulia after drawing a foul. Jason Richardson came in to protect his superstar and with Pachulia bobbing his head and hitting Richardson, Richardson gave him an open-hand to the face and a shoving match ensued. Both were ejected. Suspensions may be handed down, putting Orlando further behind in this fight, perhaps.
Orlando was certainly behind the 8-ball already. Shots were not falling (again) and the Hawks came out with the energy you would expect from a team coming home for the first time. For the third straight game, Atlanta took a double-digit lead and looked to be cruising into the half. Orlando held Atlanta to 15 points in the third quarter — Atlanta scored only six in the first eight minutes of the quarter — to get back down by four entering the final quarter.
Joe Johnson had 17 points in the first half, but Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson stepped up the defense to have him end with 21 points on 9-for-23 shooting. Stan Van Gundy was not happy with the energy early, but the Magic bounced back and made their run.
The end of the game came down to simple execution.
Orlando took the lead late in the game by one point when Hedo Turkoglu drove through the paint and found a wide open Brandon Bass at the elbow. Joe Johnson though was not afraid either. Earlier he took the ball right at Dwight Howard and drew his fifth foul. The Hawks worked their offense on the ensuing possession to find Al Horford for the answer to Bass on a long jumper.
Turkoglu had his chance to make a play again. A pick and roll with Bass gave him a matchup with Al Horford from the corner. But Turkoglu inexplicably took the shot over the 6-foot-10 center and missed badly. It set up Crawford for the final shot.
In all, the Hawks scored seven points on their final four possessions in the last two minutes. The Magic were able to match until that Turkgolu miss. They had four points in the final five possessions in that same stretch.
Execution was the difference. Even as Orlando continued to struggle to shoot — 42.5 percent and 8 for 28 from 3-point range — the failure to execute the offense at the end was the difference.
In the postseason, confidence and execution are the keys. Atlanta was able to answer the bell in Game Three.
Photos via DayLife.com.