The year was 2004. The Magic, after splitting the first two games in Detroit, came home and won two straight to take a 3-1 series lead. The opponent, the future NBA Champion Pistons, made a small adjustment. They put then-rookie Tayshaun Prince on Tracy McGrady. Through the first four games, McGrady had scorched the Pistons for 36.3 points per game, including scoring 43 and 46 in the first two games. Prince slowed McGrady down in games 5 and 7 in particular (19 and 21 points) and the Pistons went on to overcome the 3-1 deficit.
The Magic now face the same dilemma. They, like the Pistons, were heavy favorites entering the series, despite only being one seed higher than the fifth seeded Hawks. The Magic will get their regular season second leading scorer back in Jason Richardson and will return to the friendly confines of the Amway Center.
Coming back from this hole won’t be easy. The Hawks have hurt the Magic in a variety of ways and are a much more diverse team than the 2004 Magic, whose offense ran almost exclusively through McGrady (the team started Jacque Vaughn at point guard). Slowing down the Hawks will mean finding an answer for both Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, both of whom have abused the Magic in this series.
In the eyes of many, it’s an unlikely proposition that the Magic overcome this hole and win the series, but all one need remember is that the Magic were favorites coming into this series, and perhaps that logic can begin to manifest itself in the games.
It would be to the Magic’s advantage to push the pace some. The Hawks prefer to grind it out in a half court game and a lot of easy threes could be found in transition if Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu push the pace. In a series where easy shots have been few and far between, the transition game could open things up and enable the Magic to get back in this series. Stan Van Gundy surely knows this, but dictating the tempo of a game can be quite difficult. If the Magic can’t, expect this series to end either here, or in game 6 in Atlanta.