Sitting in Jamal Crawford’s locker after getting tossed from the game in the closing minutes, Zaza Pachulia was still miffed at his teammate for missing a free throw.
All was forgiven when Crawford hit an improbable 3-pointer.
Crawford banked in the long-range shot from the top of the key with 5.7 seconds left to cap a brilliant second half, leading the Atlanta Hawks to an 88-84 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night and a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference playoff series.
The Hawks led most of the game, but it came right down to the wire – marred by an altercation that led to the ejection of Pachulia and Jason Richardson of Orlando.
Both were thrown out with 2:22 remaining after getting into it under the basket. The teams swapped the lead four times after that near-brawl, with Al Horford putting the Hawks ahead for good with 46.6 seconds remaining.
But Crawford, who scored 18 of his 23 points after halftime, hit the biggest shot of all. With the shot clock winding down, he put up a jumper over Jameer Nelson that struck high on the backboard and went in.
”I didn’t call bank. I think the bank’s closed right now,” Crawford quipped.
Game 4 is Sunday night. Pachulia and Richardson are both likely to miss that one after the NBA hands down expected suspensions.
”In that situation, I’m never going to back down,” said Pachulia, who had two long scratches on his right arm after a tough night tussling with Dwight Howard. ”That’s just my personality.”
The Hawks got a free throw after the officials sorted things out, also calling a technical on Howard. But Crawford’s attempt rimmed out.
”At first, I was a little upset he missed the free throw,” Pachulia said, breaking into a big smile. ”But I’ve forgotten about that free throw.”
The physical game turned ugly when Howard drove the lane and was hammered by Pachulia, who largely took on the thankless job of guarding Orlando’s big man after Jason Collins went out with a lower-back injury in the first half.
Howard swung a forearm, Pachulia flung an elbow, then Richardson charged into Pachulia’s face. As they jawed, Pachulia appeared to deliver at least one head-butt to Richardson, who responded by slapping Pachulia in the jaw with his left hand.
Richardson was yanked away by Howard, but too late to keep him in the game. After looking at replays to determine who did what, the officials ejected both Pachulia and Richardson.
Howard said he didn’t blame Richardson for lashing out.
”If you get head-butted three times, you’re going to have some reaction,” Howard said.
With order restored, Nelson put the Magic ahead 82-81 on a jumper after stealing an extra possession for the Magic, coming up from behind to strip the ball from Crawford.
Joe Johnson responded for Atlanta, driving the lane, drawing a foul on Howard and hitting both free throws to put the Hawks up 83-82. The Magic pulled ahead for the final time when Brandon Bass swished an open jumper with 1:01 remaining after Hedo Turkoglu dribbled around to lure away the defense.
Horford put the Hawks ahead to stay, Turkoglu missed a tough jumper from near the 3-point line with Horford in his face and Crawford made his improbable 3 to clinch it.
The 10th-year guard, appearing in the playoffs for only the second time, bounced down the court tugging at his No. 11 jersey.
The Magic called a fruitless timeout and straggled to their bench, not believing what they had just seen.
”I think there was angel sitting next to him that kind of made it go in,” Howard said.
Johnson added 21 points for Atlanta, while Josh Smith had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Howard, as usual, led the way for the Magic with 21 points and 15 rebounds, but that was actually quite a letdown after he averaged 39.5 points during the first two games in Orlando.
The Hawks limited him to 14 shots and nine free throws, with Pachulia handling the bulk of the load after Collins took a charge from Howard in the first half, landed hard on his backside and played only 17 minutes.
Pachulia had four points and five rebounds, hardly impressive numbers. But his effort couldn’t be measured on the stat sheet.
”You played terrific,” Hawks general manager Rick Sund told him after the game. ”You played so hard.”
The Hawks got off to a quick start, spurred on by a rare sellout crowd of 19,865 dressed mostly in white – a ”Dwight-out,” the team called it, hoping to rattle the Atlanta native.
Orlando turned it over on their very first possession, Kirk Hinrich knocked down a 3-pointer and Atlanta raced ahead 9-2. The Magic closed the first quarter on a 10-3 spurt, though, and Howard capped the rally by stuffing Horford underneath the basket just before the buzzer to hold the score at 25-all.
In the second period, the Hawks appeared on the verge of blowing it open with an 11-1 run capped by Hinrich’s fadeaway jumper for a 47-33 lead, their biggest of the game. Orlando stemmed the tide a bit the rest of the way, going to the locker room down 51-42.
The Magic still has not led all night until Quentin Richardson hit a pointer just over a minute into the final quarter. The Hawks, who made only 5 of 20 shots in the third, suddenly found their shooting touch and ripped off 10 straight points for a 79-71 lead with just over 6 minutes left.
But they couldn’t put Orlando away until Crawford’s final shot.
”I just tried to get to my comfort zone, my sweet spot,” he said. ”I felt like I had a good look and it happened to go down for us.”
NOTES: C Etan Thomas missed the game for Atlanta to attend his grandmother’s funeral. If Pachulia is suspended for Game 4, Thomas will likely be needed to help guard Howard. .. The Magic skipped a morning shootaround. Coach Stan Van Gundy prefers to let his team rest on the road, preferring to work on any last-minute adjustments at the team hotel. … Johnson needed 23 shots to score 21 points.