Hawks down Magic, take 3-1 series lead
Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - The Hawks bent, but never broke, snuffing every spark of an Orlando comeback.
Their reward? As many as three chances to eliminate the Magic.
Jamal Crawford had 25 points off the bench and Joe Johnson scored 10 straight at the end of the game, leading Atlanta to an 88-85 victory over Orlando on Sunday for a 3-1 series lead in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Johnson finished with 20 points, including four key free throws in the last 20.2 seconds to help Atlanta hold off a desperate Orlando team that started cold, but grew pesky as the game wore on.
The Magic had a chance to tie it, but Hedo Turkoglu was stripped by Al Horford as time winded down. Turkoglu regrouped, then missed a three-pointer in tight defense at the buzzer.
Fifth-seeded Atlanta can close out the best-of-seven series with a Game 5 win on Tuesday in Orlando.
"We have to come out on edge," said Horford. "The job's not done. We have to get the next game."
What a difference a year makes.
Last season, Orlando recorded the largest margin of victory in a four-game sweep in NBA playoff history, beating the Hawks by a total of 101 points.
Now, the Magic are just trying to hang on.
"This is what I told the players: It's difficult, but once we lost Game 1 in Orlando, the thing that was clear was we were going to have to win our other three home games and one in Atlanta," said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy. "So nothing's really changed as far as that goes."
Dwight Howard had another monster game for the Magic, scoring 24 of his 29 points in the second half and pulling down 17 rebounds. Gilbert Arenas had 20 points off the bench, but Orlando shot under 40 percent, dragged down by a sub-28 percent performance in the first half.
Struggling to find their stroke, the Magic finished 2-for-23 from three-point range and only came alive in the second half.
"We recognize that they are a team loaded with three-point shooters. So we try to pay attention to those areas that allow them to get the three-point shot," said Hawks coach Larry Drew.
"One of them is [double-teaming] Dwight down low, which we have decided not to do. The other is we try to make a conscious effort to get back in transition and get bodies at the three-point line."
Crawford has been a spark plug for the Hawks, scoring at least 23 points in each of the four games so far. Not all of his buckets have been clutch, but it sure seems that way.
After Orlando tied the game at 68-68 early in the fourth, Crawford knocked down a straight-away three to key a 5-0 burst. The Magic knotted it at 76-76 on Howard's putback, but Atlanta responded with six in a row to quell another potential rally.
Johnson scored the last four, giving the Hawks an 82-76 lead with two free throws at 3:24. Orlando resorted to chucking up shots, and Atlanta wasn't much better, failing to set up productive plays as it let the shot clock wind down on possessions.
The Magic pulled within a point twice.
Arenas got an inbounds pass and drove the lane to make it 84-83, but Johnson made free throws at the other end for a three-point lead. Arenas drove again, missed, and Howard's put back got the Magic within 86-85. But Johnson made another pair with 10.5 seconds left.
Orlando looked to Turkoglu, despite his shooting struggles, but Horford blanketed him on the right side of the arc, swiping the ball from his hands and redoubling his efforts after Turkoglu got the ball back.
Turkoglu, who has made more than 1,100 three-pointers in his NBA career, went 0-for-6 on Sunday and is just 3-for-23 in the series.
Of course, the whole team looked out-of-sorts in the first half.
Saddled with two fouls, Howard played just 6:19 in the first quarter and the Magic went just 5-of-20 from the floor. Atlanta seized on their slow start, shooting nearly 58 percent to build a 25-17 lead.
Crawford scored 10 of his 14 first half points in the second and the Hawks went ahead by as many as 16 points with a 10-2 run. Crawford and Kirk Hinrich scored all 10 during the spurt, including one three-pointer apiece.
The Magic went 0-for-10 from three-point range in the quarter and 1-for-14 in the first half, finishing under 28 percent from the field in the first half. Still, they were within 46-37 heading into the locker room and 66-61 entering the fourth.
Both teams were shorthanded for Game 4 after an altercation late in Game 3 led to the ejections and one-game suspensions of Magic guard Jason Richardson and Hawks center Zaza Pachulia...Brandon Bass scored 11 for Orlando, while Jameer Nelson was just 3-of-12 for six points...Horford had 14 points and a team-high 12 rebounds...Hinrich scored 14.
04/24 23:00:45 ET