Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images
Able to stave off elimination and avoid ending their season on their home court, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Atlanta Hawks by the score of 101-76 and force a Game 6 on Thursday on the road. One of the running narratives in the series has centered on the Magic’s three-point shooting, and how awful it’s been. Heading into Game 5, Orlando was shooting 21.8 percent from three-point range. Even though the Hawks deserve credit for being able to stymie the Magic’s army of three-point shooters, that’s still an abnormally low percentage and more of a statistical anomaly than anything else. During the regular season, Orlando shot 36.6 percent on threes and sooner or later, the odds of them regressing to the mean were high. The question was whether or not it’d be too late. Well, if the Game 5 result is any indication, the answer is no. The Magic shot 11-of-26 (42.3 percent) from three-point range and finally played up to their potential on both ends of the floor. Orlando was led by a balanced attack, as nine players scored seven points or more. Jason Richardson paced the starters with 17 points, returning from his Game 4 suspension and making a positive impact offensively. J.J. Redick stood out among the reserves with 14 points on eight shots in less than 20 minutes of playing time. It speaks volumes that the Magic were able to crush the Hawks by 25 points, given that Dwight Howard only had eight points and eight rebounds, but it says more so that the supporting cast was able to step up.
Especially Redick, given that he was the player of the game after he willed Orlando in the first quarter after Howard picked up two early fouls. At the 5:39 mark in the period, Howard picked up his second foul after battling a loose ball with Josh Smith in hopes of getting an offensive rebound. At that point, it seemed like the Magic were going to have to do everything they could to weather the storm with Howard sitting on the bench. Surprisingly enough, after Redick checked in for Richardson at the 4:35 mark and Orlando clinging to a 12-9 lead, everything changed in a heartbeat and it seemed like Atlanta didn’t know what hit them. After Redick entered the game, the Magic immediately went on a 14-4 run and he was responsible for 11 consecutive points.
[3:39] Redick makes layup
[2:46] Redick makes 19-foot two-point jumpshot
[2:05] Redick makes 11-foot two-point jumpshot
[1:09] Redick makes 19-foot two-point jumpshot
[0:45] Redick makes 21-foot two-point jumpshot
[0:45] Redick makes free throw 1 of 1
Like in Game 2, Redick’s energy and effort stood out more than anything else and his teammates as well as the fans responded.
Orlando, with Howard acting as nothing more than a cheerleader on the sidelines, finished the quarter with a 26-13 lead and all the momentum on their side. From there, the floodgates opened and the Magic were able to punish the Hawks from the perimeter. The main thing that stands out from Orlando’s performance on offense is that they butchered Atlanta in pick and rolls.
During Redick’s scoring spree in the first quarter, three of his field goals came in pick and rolls but on different variations. On one possession, Redick made a jumper in a staggered 2/5 pick and roll with Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass setting the screens. On another possession, Redick made another jumper in a 2/4 pick and roll with Anderson. That particular sequence started with a pin-down from Anderson on the elbow and Redick coming around the screen to jumpstart the pick and roll. On Redick’s other jumper, that came on a 2/4 pick and roll with Anderson without any previous action setting up the play.
And when the three-pointers came in waves during the second quarter, with the Magic making five of them, Richardson made back-to-back threes late in the period that served as backbreakers for the Hawks in catch-and-shoot opportunities from 1/5 pick and rolls ran executed Jameer Nelson and Howard. Orlando is at their best when they have the European drive-and-kick game going and that’s something head coach Stan Van Gundy will surely rely on in Game 6. Another thing that stood out, with pick and rolls as the topic right now, is the Hawks’ strategy for defending them when Arenas is at the point guard position. For whatever reason, Atlanta is going over the screen and allowing Arenas a path to the basket. It’s no secret that Arenas has lost much of the explosiveness and athleticism that made him a terror to guard in his prime, but he still has the strength to attack the rim. As was the case in Game 4, the Hawks continued to go over the screen in Game 5 and Arenas was able to make them pay a few times. It remains to be seen if Atlanta continues this pick and roll coverage against Arenas because it isn’t working.
If anything, head coach Larry Drew would be better served instructing his players to go under the screen and dare Arenas to shoot. A jumper is much tougher than a layup, and Arenas’ jumpshot isn’t reliable.
Overall, this was an impressive display from the Magic and long overdue. But it remains to be seen if Orlando can do this two more times. There will be those that say the pressure is now on Atlanta to close out the series in Game 6 because that’ll be their last chance to finish things off at home. That’s foolish logic because the Hawks aren’t the team trying to avoid elimination — that’s the Magic. The pressure is on Orlando to win in Game 6 and force a Game 7. If that happens then yes, Atlanta will begin to feel a sense of urgency and try not to blow a 3-1 series lead.
For now, it’s on the Magic to keep their season alive.
If Howard can play like he did in Games 1-4. If Hedo Turkoglu, Nelson, and Arenas can execute their pick and rolls (to be frank, Van Gundy should shove that play down the Hawks’ throat). If the supporting cast for Orlando can contribute from the perimeter at an acceptable rate and make some of their shots against Atlanta.
Most importantly, if the Magic can slow down Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, then they stand at giving themselves the best chance possible of winning Game 6.
Until then, advantage Hawks.