ATLANTA — In the Orlando Magic's postgame locker room Sunday night, Stan Van Gundy turned to his assistant coaches and asked a question. Should they take their players directly from Orlando International Airport to Amway Center upon arrival in Florida and shoot baskets until their teamwide shooting woes disappear?
Van Gundy was only half-joking.
An atrocious shooting slump, poor perimeter defense and a tendency to start games slowly has the Magic one loss away from elimination after they dropped Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks 88-85 Sunday night at Philips Arena.
Only eight teams in NBA history have accomplished what the Magic will try to do now: win a best-of-seven series after trailing three games to one. Dwight Howard boiled down the talk ahead to a simple message to his teammates.
"I just told 'em if they don't believe that we can still win, stay in Atlanta," Howard recalled.
"We've just got to keep believing, and guys have got to make shots, simple as that."
But making shots is anything but simple these days for the Magic.
They missed 21 of their 23 attempts from 3-point range Sunday. That abysmal performance lowered their 3-point percentage so far in these playoffs to just under 22 percent.
"I think mental toughness right now for us as much as physical toughness is huge," Van Gundy said. "It's gotten contagious now. Nobody makes a shot. I think it's taken the wind out of our sails a little bit. I think our guys are competing and battling."
Appropriately enough, Game 4 ended on a missed 3-pointer.
The Magic inbounded the ball to Gilbert Arenas with 10.5 seconds left, and Arenas swung the ball to Hedo Turkoglu. The Hawks' Al Horford knocked the ball away, and although Turkoglu recovered it, he had no choice but to take a desperation shot.
It clanged off the back left side of the rim, sending the announced crowd of 19,490 and the Hawks into a frenzy.
"We came into this series with the mindset that we were going to play confident regardless of the situation," said Atlanta guard Joe Johnson, who scored the Hawks' final 10 points. "We're just trying to ride the wave right now."
Game 5 is scheduled for 7:30 Tuesday night at Amway Center.
"We have to put everything into Tuesday night," Magic guard J.J. Redick said. "If we do that, then we can come back here and try to get a road win on them. That's really got to be our focus: take care of Tuesday night. Maximum effort."
In Game 4 Sunday, the Magic once again fell into an early deficit.
Howard picked up his second personal foul with 5:41 remaining in the first quarter, and the play immediately changed the tone of the game. He sat out the remainder of the quarter, and what had been only a three-point Hawks lead turned into an eight-point Hawks advantage.
Orlando didn't lead once all night, and Atlanta raced out to a 16-point advantage in the second quarter and a 13-point edge in the third quarter.
Gilbert Arenas and Howard helped bring the Magic back.
With Jason Richardson suspended because of his altercation with Zaza Pachulia in Game 3, Arenas returned to the Magic rotation for the first time in a game and a half, and he responded well, scoring 20 points on 9-of-18 shooting. He also collected five rebounds and dished out two assists.
Early in the fourth quarter, Arenas tied the score when he thought he was fouled beyond the 3-point line. Arenas intended just to draw three foul shots, but his off-balance heave sailed through the net and evened the score at 68-all.
Hawks coach Larry Drew immediately called a timeout, and he noticed a different reaction from his players than they showed in last year's second-round sweep by the Magic.
"I know in the past this team has been in those types of situation and did not respond well," Drew said.
"We came into that huddle and there was not a sense of panic whatsoever. After the timeout, I saw the guys huddle, and you could kind of see that they were still in tune to what we were doing. Their confidence level was not shattered -- not one bit."
The Hawks scored the next five points.
About four minutes later, a putback layup by Howard tied the score 78-78 with 5:45 left.
Josh Smith made a hook shot. Johnson sank a floater over Howard's outstretched arm. And Johnson made a pair of foul shots after he drew a foul on Turkoglu.
Meanwhile, the Magic suddenly went cold. Turkoglu misfired on a 3-pointer, Howard missed a pair of free throws and Turkoglu was called for a charge.
"The problem is our defense has to be great, great, great because our offense is awful right now," Van Gundy said. "Our defense cannot afford any breakdowns whatsoever."
Nobody benefitted more from those breakdowns than guard Jamal Crawford, who combined 25 points with six assists, both team-highs.
No one on the Magic has guarded him effectively this series.
And besides Arenas and Howard, who scored a game-high 29 points, most of the Magic didn't contribute on the offensive end.
Jameer Nelson went 3 for 12.
Ryan Anderson went 1 for 6.
Redick missed all six of his shot attempts.
And Turkoglu had a 2-for-12 shooting night, ending with the missed 3 as time expired.
The Magic didn't go directly from Orlando's airport to Amway Center.
But the team will need to break out of its slump Tuesday.
"I don't think we've played anywhere near to the level that we're capable of playing at," Van Gundy said. "I think we've played well below it, and as a coach, certainly I deserve a lot of the responsibility for that. I'm not running from that.
"Now it's all about playing one great game on Tuesday night. That's what it's all about. You play one great game on Tuesday night, and the whole series can change."
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