ATLANTA — The Orlando Magic can point to a fortunate 3-point heave by Jamal Crawford as the reason why they lost Game 3 of their playoff series to the Atlanta Hawks 88-84.
But as Crawford triumphantly hopped up and down the Philips Arena court, game-in-hand with 5.7 seconds remaining, the Magic only had themselves — and not bad luck — to blame.
Jason Richardson lost his cool late. Hedo Turkoglu lost his shooting stroke. For one half, the Magic lost their intensity on the defensive end of the court. And now the team trails the best-of-seven series two games to one.
"We just have to keep believing," said center Dwight Howard.
The Magic may confront an additional obstacle when Game 4 arrives Sunday. Richardson could be serving a league-imposed suspension for fighting with Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia late in Game 3's fourth quarter.
With Atlanta ahead 81-80 with 2:22 remaining, Pachulia fouled Howard hard as Howard shot the ball in the lane. As Howard landed, his right forearm careened into the left side of Pachulia's face just as Pachulia flung an arm at Howard.
Richardson raced into the picture, and as he and Pachulia jawed at each other, Pachulia delivered two or three head butts to Richardson's forehead. Richardson responded by delivering a slap to Pachulia's face.
Both Richardson and Pachulia were ejected for fighting, and Howard received a technical foul.
"Playoff basketball — that's what I saw," Hawks coach Larry Drew said.
"It was intense the entire game. It got physical out there. Obviously, emotions are high. You got two teams fighting to win, and everybody's trying to gain an edge, particularly down the stretch. The one thing that we don't want to do in that situation is take a step back, and I'm sure they're feeling the exact same way."
Richardson left the arena without speaking to reporters.
"If you get head-butted three times, you're going to have some kind of reaction," Howard said. "When a guy hits you — he head-butts you — it's tough not to have a reaction. But, hopefully, they look at the whole thing. If he can't play [in Game 4], then the other guys have got to step up."
The lead changed hands four times after the altercation.
Al Horford made a 21-foot jumper to put Atlanta ahead for good 85-84 with 46.6 seconds to go.
On Orlando's ensuing possession, Turkoglu took — and missed — a 3-pointer even though he had nine seconds to go on the shot clock.
"Horrible shot," Van Gundy said. "Horrible shot. Plenty of time on the shot clock. Horrible shot."
"Right now, I have not been able to get Turk to shoot the ball when he's open," Van Gundy added later. "I can't get him to do that. I think he fairly consistently passes up very good shots to take very tough shots, which is what he did at the end, too."
Turkoglu finished with nine points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Crawford delivered the dagger on Atlanta's next possession. With Jameer Nelson in his face and the shot clock almost at zero, Crawford sent a 26-footer toward the hoop, where it banked off the backboard to put the game out of reach.
"Luck," Howard said. "I think there was an angel sitting next to him that kinda went with the ball and went in. That was a tough shot."
Crawford finished with a game-high 23 points.
After it ended, the Magic kicked themselves for allowing the Hawks to shoot 54.8 percent in the first half and build a 14-point lead during the second quarter.
"I think it's very disappointing at this time of the year, but we didn't play the game hard enough or with enough intensity on the defensive end in the first half," Van Gundy said. "We just didn't. On the defensive end of the floor we played half a game.
"You're in the playoffs. You're on the road. I don't understand it. I don't have an answer for it. But I know this: It's not going to work."
Howard played 44 minutes, 40 seconds, and he scored a team-high 21 points and collected a game-high 15 rebounds.
He was on the Magic's bench at the start of the second quarter, with the game tied at 25.
He sat only 2 minutes, 56 seconds. Van Gundy put him back in the game after the Hawks took a 33-28 lead.
"It was very hard to even let him get a drink of water," Van Gundy said. "We just struggle so much when he's off the floor. We shouldn't struggle as much as we do."
But the Magic do struggle without him on the court.
And now they face the prospect of Game 4 without Richardson and with Turkoglu's confidence eroded.
Howard, Nelson, Turkoglu and J.J. Redick have faced a similar situation before. In 2009, they trailed the Philadelphia 76ers two games to one when Game 4 was played in Philly.
The Magic won that game, eventually won the series and reached the NBA Finals.
"We just need guys to step up," Nelson said. "We've been resilient all year long, and guys play tough. We've just gotta step up. Everybody."
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