ORLANDO -- How quickly the pressure can shift: the Hawks, having dominated Orlando all season on its way to a decisive 3-1 lead in this series, are suddenly faced with a crucial Game 6 at home. Lose that rematch Thursday and they'll have to return here, where they were smoked 101-76 by the (yes, this part is true) J.J. Redick-inspired Magic in Game 5.
Two unlikelihoods sunk Atlanta Tuesday. The Hawks were blown away while Dwight Howard -- who came in averaging 32.3 points and 17.5 rebounds for the series -- lowered his voice for 8 points (1 for 4) and 8 rebounds. The other unexpected turn was made by Redick (14 points while going 6 of 8), who had been so frigid over the previous four games. The jump-shooting Magic were in this hole because it had converted no more than 21.9 percent of its threes, and Redick had been the most hopeless of them all while going 1 for 12. Pitchers hit for a better average than that.
It hadn't helped that Redick had entered the playoffs with one practice after being away for five weeks while recovering from a lower abdomen strain. "He couldn't run, he couldn't shoot, he couldn't do anything," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "What he was going through to start a playoff series is what these guys go through in the summer -- they take a month off and they gradually get back into it. Put them in after a month of doing nothing and they wouldn't look great. Had he come out and played four games the way he played tonight,
Even so, the purest shooters are shameless in their optimism: Every new game offers a fresh stat sheet to be filled. "You can't let it become a mental game," Redick said. "There's been so much talk the last few days about our team's collective shooting, and if you let that get in your mind then you're going to continue to struggle. I've said the last few days the law of averages is eventually going to even out."
This had been turning into another rotten night. Howard (within 6:20) and Hedo Turkoglu (in 86 seconds) were on the bench with two fouls and the Magic were shooting horribly while maintaining a threadbare 12-9 lead when Redick arrived with 4:36 remaining in the first quarter. Eight minutes later, Orlando had blown the lead out to 36-17 and it was mainly thanks to Redick.
He introduced himself to the bottom line by sprinting his lane to finish a reverse layup from Jameer Nelson in transition (17-9). Redick then dribbled brazenly into open spaces to can jumper after jumper after jumper -- the last of them as he was knocked backward by the begoggled Kirk Hinrich to create a three-point play. That advanced Orlando's advantage to 26-11 and gave Redick 11 points in less than four minutes. "It felt good to see the ball go through the basket," Redick said, "and to see it go through the basket consecutively."
Redick did all his shooting inside the three-point line, and he was in a very giving mood. Not only did he make it look easy for his teammates, but he spread his goodwill around with drive-and-kick assists to Ryan Anderson and Quentin Richardson that left the Hawks in a 32-15 hole. Their deficit grew and grew.
Jamal Crawford's four-game streak of 20-point games -- a postseason run off the bench unequaled since Kevin McHale did it for Boston in 1991 -- ended with him going 2 for 8 for his 8 points as Howard and other frontcourt defenders showed up to him earlier than ever. "In that first quarter clearly, clearly, we lost our composure," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. "We did not play with the poise that I thought we would."
But Drew declined to agree that winning Game 6 is a must for his team. "We knew going into this series both teams are capable of winning on each other's floor," said Drew. "We control our own destiny. Now that we go back home we have a great opportunity. It's going to be a huge challenge, but I'm sure my guys are ready for it ... We still feel good about ourselves.''
The Magic will try to turn those good feelings sideways in the opening minutes of the next game. No more than eight teams have recovered from 3-1 down to win a series, and only twice has it happened over the previous 13 years. The optimism from this solid recovery -- a franchise-record six turnovers and 42.3 percent shooting from the arc -- is offset by Atlanta's overall 6-3 record against the Magic since Orlando's historic postseason sweep in the second round last year.
"A little less than 5 percent of teams in this situation end up getting the job done," said Van Gundy. "We have to play really well virtually every possession for the next two games."