Shooters always shoot. That is what they do. That is all they can do. In a slump? Shoot through it or dig your head in and get to the basket. Just know that the next one is going to fall.
That had to be what Hedo Turkoglu and the rest of the Magic were thinking as they stared down a three-point deficit with 10 seconds to play. Orlando famously relies on 3-point shooting, drawing the criticism of the national media and observers everywhere declaring the style cannot win. The Magic have always felt comfortable with the 3-pointer even when they are not falling.
When you live by the three, you die by the three. After four years of relying on the most fickle and efficient of NBA shots, it may finally be coming back to haunt them.
Turkoglu lost the ball as he was preparing to rise up over Al Horford on the final possession. When he recovered, he rushed back to the three-point line and forced a long-range heave over Horford that hit off the back iron. Game over. The Hawks won 88-85 and took a commanding 3-1 series lead Sunday night at Philips Arena.
The Magic hit their first three-point attempt of the game and proceeded to miss the next 19. Much like Games Two and Three, these were not contested 3-pointers for the most part. These were open or rhythm looks that the team typically makes. The Magic just often do not go 2 for 23 from 3-point range. In fact, they never do. Further adding to the puzzle of going 21 for 96 from 3-point range in the four games of this series.
Atlanta did little to help themselves, losing a 16-point lead and settling for mid-range and contested and quick 3-pointers throughout the second and third quarters. But at the end of the game, things ran through Joe Johnson and Johnson delivered.The Magic tied the game at 76, but allowed the Hawks to go on a 6-0 run. It came on a Jamal Crawford 3-pointer and a Joe Johnson drive. Throughout the final stages of the fourth quarter, Johnson took the ball and drove into the middle of the lane, throwing that sweet floater softly into the rim. He scored 20 points on 6-for-15 shooting, carrying Atlanta to the finish line. He hit four free throws to keep the Hawks up by three in the final 30 seconds.
Like the rest of the game though, Johnson gave Orlando its opportunity to come back in this game. Johnson turned the ball over on a Jameer Nelson steal that led to a Quentin Richardson dunk. Even with the Magic shooting so poorly, Orlando was very much in this game.
Orlando got an unlikely lift from Gilbert Arenas in the third and fourth quarters as Orlando pushed its way back into the game and made things much closer than it probably should have been. A team like the Magic should not be anywhere near the game while shooting 8.7 percent from 3-point range.
Stan Van Gundy put it bluntly after the game, his team needs to make shots and stay patient and confidence. But he also admitted with the way the team is playing offensively, Orlando should be getting blown out. Makes you appreciate how close Atlanta really was to sweeping this series.
The Hawks raced out to an early lead, taking advantage of another slow start from the Magic. Two early fouls from Dwight Howard made things even more difficult. Orlando kept things relatively close, but Atlanta was just shooting too well early. They went up by 16 points and Howard and the Magic had to claw their way back in.
They slowly chipped away at the lead throughout the end of the second and third quarters. Howaard scored 14 of the team's 24 points in the third quarter (he finished with 29 points and 17 rebounds but added eight of the team's 13 turnovers). Gilbert Arenas played a big part in that. He scored 20 points on 9-for-18 shooting, attacking the basket with the fervor he did back in his (healthy) days in Washington. He had Orlando's only 3-pointer in the second half which tied the game in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Arenas was a big bright spot in the game as everyone else just struggled to make shots. Even though Atlanta felt compelled to take quick shots early in the shot clock from mid range and got away from the ball movement and attacking style that helped it build a double-digit lead -- Atlanta has had a double-digit lead in each of the four games -- Orlando simply could not make the team pay.
The first half was a parade of 3-point shots that just would not go in. Even if the looks were open. The Magic adjusted their strategy slightly with Arenas trying to get to the basket and setting up more post ups for Howard. Hedo Turkoglu even attacked the basket more. Orlando was rewarded for this aggression, going to the line 29 times, making 21 free throw attempts. Atlanta was not going to the line until the end of the game, finishing with 20 attempts. The free throw shooting -- the Magic had 17 attempts in the first half -- was a big factor in keeping them in the game.
It should be a lesson for Game Five.
But when shots are not falling, you obviously are not scoring. And when you cannot score, you are not going to win. Jameer Nelson was 3 for 12 and Hedo Turkoglu shot 2 for 12. Orlando is not winning if those two cannot get it going. Atlanta did a good job keeping Nelson out of the paint on the pick and roll. And Turkoglu is really struggling to break free from Josh Smith.
Stan Van Gundy has not had a lot of answers in this series. He has been willing to shoulder blame for not getting guys free for jumpers. But he is right in also asking his players to do the simplest of basketball tasks: make shots.
If the Magic cannot do it in Game Five, their season is over.
Photos via DayLife.com.