For the first four games of this playoff series, the Orlando Magic could depend on only one player: Dwight Howard. No one else hit shots consistently. No one else defended game-in, game-out effectively. And no one else brought the necessary intensity at the beginning of games.
But with their team facing elimination Tuesday night, the rest of the Magic finally had Howard's back.
On an evening Howard faced early foul trouble, his much-maligned supporting cast turned Game 5 -- and perhaps the series itself -- on its ear. J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson and the rest of the roster propelled the Magic to a 101-76 thrashing of the Atlanta Hawks at Amway Center.
"We just played the way we should've been playing the whole series," said Howard, who made only one basket the entire game and finished with eight points.
"Thank God we got a victory tonight."
A tougher test looms. The Hawks lead the series three games to two, and they will host Game 6 Thursday night at Philips Arena.
"I think we have a ton of momentum coming into that game and we're going to take advantage of that," power forward Ryan Anderson said. "It'll be a great game, but if we can play like we did and play great defense, we're the better team."
Still, there actually was a time Tuesday when it seemed like the Magic might not force a Game 6.
Howard committed his second personal foul on a reach-in with 5:40 remaining in the first quarter and the Magic leading only 10-8. Coach Stan Van Gundy had to pull Howard out of the game.
When Howard has been off the floor earlier in the series, the Magic played like Samson without his hair.
But not this time.
Led by Redick, the Magic closed out the quarter on a 16-5 run.
Redick scored Orlando's final 11 points of that stretch, two of them on an acrobatic up-and-under reverse layup on a fastbreak initiated by a Jameer Nelson steal. The basket put Orlando up 17-9 and brought the announced crowd of 19,091 inside Amway Center to its feet.
Standing at the Magic bench, Howard waved his arms up and down, a smile on his face, urging the fans on.
"That was a point in the game where it could've gone the other way and they could've made a run," Redick said.
"Stan talked to us before the game about us having the will that no matter what happens during the course of the game, whether it's foul trouble or not making shots or [Jamal] Crawford making unbelievable shots again and again, that our will and our energy was just going to be too much."
Also in the locker room before tipoff, Rich DeVos, the Magic's 85-year-old owner, told his players not to give up. He told him that he failed multiple times before he made his fortune.
For the Magic, the first four games of the series were filled with failure. The team had made only 22 percent of its treys, prompting one fan to bring a sign into Amway Center on Tuesday with "3's PLEASE" written in bold blue ink.
Richardson returned from his Game 4 suspension even though he accidentally stepped on glass at home Tuesday afternoon, opening a gash on the bottom of his left foot that required seven stitches. Even with that pain, Richardson led all Magic players with 17 points.
He hit three of his six attempts from beyond the arc.
On one third-quarter sequence, he received the ball all alone in the left corner, and the Hawks made no effort to close-out on him. Richardson calmly set up his feet and stroked a textbook jumper that swished through the net.
Anderson sank three treys. He pumped his right fist when the first two fell through the hoop.
In all, the Magic hit 11 of their 26 3-point attempts.
"They continued to shoot the ball," Atlanta's Marvin Williams said. "It seemed like once they made one, they started making them from all over the place."
Meanwhile, Orlando's shooting slump seemed to rub off on the Hawks.
Atlanta made only three field goals in the entire first quarter and made only 36 percent of its shots for the entire game.
Joe Johnson went just two for 12 from the field and scored five points. Richardson and others gave him almost no room to operate and often guarded him almost chest-to-chest on Johnson when Johnson held the ball.
Jamal Crawford, the Hawks' best offensive player this series, only went two for eight with eight points.
Asked what suddenly slowed Johnson and Crawford, Van Gundy responded, "We played harder."
Josh Smith scored 22 points, but his 7-of-18 shooting night was characterized by his typical assortment of ill-advised attempts. He often settled for long jumpers instead of utilizing his explosiveness and quickness on drives to the hoop.
Meanwhile, Atlanta made only three field goals in the entire first quarter and made only 36 percent of its shots overall.
"My team did not respond to the first quarter very well," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "We lost our composure very early in the game."
Howard played just under 29 minutes, and the extra rest might help him in Game 6.
"I don't think they'll be any celebrating tonight," Van Gundy said. "I don't even think they'll celebrate for five or 10 minutes. We're behind. We did what we had to do tonight, but all we did was cut the lead, basically.
"It's like you make a run in a game and cut the lead from 20 to 12 or something. That's about like what we did tonight. What we did do, though, we know what we're capable of."
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