Atlanta may be ecstatic after moving within one game of a return to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the third straight year, but as the Hawks look to seal the series, they should keep in mind that Sunday's 88-85 win over Orlando provided just as much of a cautionary tale as a reason for excitement. The Hawks controlled the game all night and never relinquished the lead, yet victory nearly escaped them because of poor offensive decisions.
• Sunday's win should never have come down to being a one-possession game in the final minute. But the Hawks can blame their lack of consistent discipline on offense. Orlando managed just 37 first-half points and shot 36 percent through three quarters, while Atlanta rushed ahead with a hot-shooting start. The Hawks should have been kicking back with a comfortable advantage in the final minutes. But that hasn't been the Hawks' character this season. Big and athletic at every position, Atlanta can be explosive when it gets good ball movement that forces defenses out of position. But too often those athletes settle for one-on-one isolation plays and perimeter jump shots, giving opponents chances to reclaim momentum. Orlando took advantage of that tendency Sunday, pulling close with a 16-6 run in the second quarter while Atlanta went through a 3-of-11 shooting slump. The Magic did it again in the third quarter, whittling away a 13-point gap as the Hawks cooled off. Atlanta may get away with those breakdowns in this series, where its size on the perimeter creates a favorable matchup with Orlando's smaller guards, but it will be tougher to get away with if they progress in the Eastern Conference, where they are sure to meet a better defensive team.
• Even when the offense is sputtering this series, Jamal Crawford's extraordinary play has often helped Atlanta pull out of a tailspin. It would have been hard to predict Crawford would become Atlanta's offensive leader before Game 1 and maintain a straight face. He's always had a reputation for being a good scorer on bad teams. And while he was Atlanta's fourth-leading scorer this year, he shot an unimpressive 42 percent from the field. But the 6-foot-5 Crawford, who hit the game-sealing three-pointer in Game 3 to give Atlanta a 2-1 series lead, has thrived against Orlando's smaller backcourt. On Sunday the Magic were without the suspended Jason Richardson and had only one guard available -- 6-6 Quentin Richardson -- who could match Crawford's size. That advantage was obvious as Crawford often shot over Orlando's reserves while burying 10-of-18 shots for a team-high 25 points. Crawford now leads Atlanta in scoring with 24.0 points off the bench in the series, and is shooting 47 percent from the field, including an astounding 57 percent from three-point range.
• It took Orlando half the game to figure out that Atlanta was thinner in the frontcourt with 6-foot-11, 275-pound Zaza Pachulia serving his one-game suspension for the Game 3 incident with Richardson. But once the Magic started taking advantage and attacking the rim, Orlando nearly stole a key victory. The Magic started the game by working pick-and-rolls from the sides, but could never develop a rhythm. They shot 28 percent from the field in the first half, trailed by 16 in the second quarter and by 13 early in the third. It wasn't until the second half that Orlando attacked the rim and took advantage of Pachulia's absence, either by posting up Dwight Howard, who had 24 of his game-high 29 points in the second half, or getting dribble penetration from Gilbert Arenas from the perimeter. The aggressive offense led the Magic to shoot 53 percent from the field in the second half and outscore Atlanta 48-42.
• Arenas' breakthrough night was one of the most unexpected performances of the series. The veteran guard sat out all of Game 3 and averaged only nine minutes of low-impact action in the first two games. Then came Sunday: 20 points, 9-of-18 shooting, five rebounds in 22 difference-making minutes. Much of that playing time came because of Richardson's suspension. But Arenas was so effective that Magic coach Stan Van Gundy may need to rethink his rotations with the series on the line.
• The inconsistent offense suggested that the Magic were hurt by the loss of Richardson more than Atlanta missed Pachulia, and Howard had little support from the remaining cast. Jameer Nelson was 3-of-12 from the field, and reserve guard J.J. Redick was 0-of-6. Forwards Ryan Anderson (1-of-6) and Hedo Turkoglu (2-of-12) didn't provide a threat either. Only Brandon Bass (11 points) and the unexpected contribution by Arenas gave Howard any relief.