ATLANTA (AP) - Zaza Pachulia is not one to back down.
The NBA is likely to sit him down, which could be a big blow for Atlanta.
The Hawks took the upper hand in their Eastern Conference playoff series with Orlando, clinching an 88-84 victory when Jamal Crawford banked in an improbable 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds remaining in Game 3 Friday night.
But the game was marred by an altercation between Pachulia and Jason Richardson of the Magic with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining. Both players were tossed and face likely suspensions for Game 4 Sunday night in Atlanta.
The Hawks, up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, figure to miss their backup center more than one might expect. Pachulia went toe-to-toe with Dwight Howard, handed a bigger-than-expected role after Jason Collins injured his lower back taking a charge from Orlando's big man in the first half.
Pachulia head-butted Richardson at least one time, and the Orlando player responded with a slap to the jaw.
``In that situation, I'm never going to back down,' said Pachulia, who had two long scratches on his right arm. ``That's just my personality.'
Howard 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 taking over the bulk of the load from Collins. The starter landed hard on his backside, went to the locker room for treatment and wound up playing only 17 minutes.
``I try to play hard and help my team,' Pachulia said. ``I'm a role player.'
He 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 Pachulia after the game.
Crawford made the biggest shot.
With Atlanta clinging to a one-point lead and the shot clock winding down, he put up an awkward-looking 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,' quipped Crawford, who scored 18 of his 23 points after halftime.
The physical game turned ugly when Howard drove the lane and was hammered by Pachulia. Howard swung a forearm, Pachulia flung an elbow, then Richardson charged into Pachulia's face. 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 Pachulia for head-butting and Richardson for the punch.
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, the teams put on a terrific finish. 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.
Al Horford put the Hawks ahead for good on a jumper from his favorite spot - the elbow of the lane - with 46.6 seconds remaining. Turkoglu missed a tough jumper from near the 3-point line with Horford in his face, and Crawford clinched 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 an angel sitting next to him that kind of made it go in,' Howard said.
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. The Magic closed the first quarter on a 10-3 spurt, however, with Howard 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 Kirk 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 had not led all night until Quentin Richardson hit a 3-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 midway through the fourth.
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 scored 21 points for Atlanta but needed 23 shots to do it. Josh Smith chipped in with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The Associated Press News Service
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