Published November 20, 2014
There's a sign on the wall leading into the Atlanta Hawks' locker room that says: "We Control Our Own Destiny."
Indeed, even after a humiliating loss in Orlando, the Hawks remain in control of their playoff destiny against the Magic. They're still leading the series. They're still one win away from finishing off the Magic.
Best of all, they're back at home for Game 6.
"We are still in a great position," coach Larry Drew said Wednesday after a lengthy film session with his assistants, breaking down a 101-76 rout by the Magic the night before. "We've put the ball back in our court, with the possibility to close it out at home. That's what we plan to do."
The Hawks won Game 1 in Orlando to steal home-court advantage, and protected that edge with two close wins at home. They had hoped to close out the series on the road, but the Magic were having none of that.
Changing up his game plan, coach Stan Van Gundy ran less of the offense through Dwight Howard, who averaged more than 32 points over the first four games but got little help from his teammates. Running the Hawks ragged with one pick-and-roll after another, Orlando got strong games out of Jason Richardson (17 points) and backup guard J.J. Redick (14 points).
Howard played less than 30 minutes, made only one shot from the field and finished with a mere eight points and eight rebounds. Even so, the Magic dominated from the opening tip, racing out to a 23-point lead by halftime.
"I don't think it can be one or two guys. Those first four games, it was basically just Dwight carrying us," Van Gundy said. "We need more people involved. We need to have a lot of people play well."
Just as Drew is stressing to his team that they still lead the series, Van Gundy wants his team to continue playing with the desperation of a squad that's facing another one-and-done scenario.
"Our energy and effort has to be at least what it was (in Game 5), if not better," he said. "My main message was, we're still behind. My analogy today was it's like a game when you're down 25 and then you make a run to get it back to 10. You feel good that you're playing better, but you can't celebrate because you're still down 10 and you've got a long way to go before you actually win it."
After the game, the first thing Van Gundy wrote on the board was: "3-2, we're still behind."
"All we did was cut into the lead a little bit," he said. "We're still getting our butts kicked. And that's got to be the attitude."
The Hawks shot just 36 percent (25 of 89) in their worst performance of the series. Josh Smith was the only starter in double figures with 22 points.
Drew said no one — not even Smith — played up to an acceptable standard.
"I didn't see the effort I saw in games 3 and 4," the coach said. "There was a very glaring difference in our effort on both ends of the floor. We watched it some with the players, so they can see. The bottom line is, this is playoff basketball. This is the time where every possession counts. We played against a team that had their back against the wall, and we didn't respond to their intensity. That was very glaring."
The Hawks expect Van Gundy to keep calling the same style of offense that worked so well in Game 5, so they'll have to work even harder to fight through screens and cut down on the open looks the Magic get from beyond the 3-point stripe. They made 11 of 26 on Tuesday night, quite an improvement on their dismal 2-of-23 showing the previous game.
"It kind of threw us off," Smith said. "The first four games, they were predictable. In Game 5, they ran so much pick-and-roll it was kind of hard to defend with the different coverages we had. It's nothing but a chess match. I know we're going to come up with a different scheme, and hopefully it works for us."
One thing the Hawks don't want to do is return to Orlando for a decisive game.
"This is pretty much our best chance," forward Marvin Williams said. "It would be tough to go back down there and steal a win in Game 7.
Looking for any motivational edge they can get, the Hawks ran off copies of a newspaper article written by an Orlando columnist, who called the Hawks "birdbrains" and guaranteed the Magic would rally to win the series after losing Game 1 at home and falling behind 3-1.
Each Atlanta player got a copy in his locker.
"That wasn't my idea," Drew insisted. "But I heard the article got passed around. Certainly, you can always use some bulletin-board material. But at this stage of the game, its just about us coming out and being ready to do battle."
Associated Press Writer Kyle Hightower in Orlando, Fla., contributed to this report.