But on Sunday afternoon – Game-1 of the Wizards’ series against the Atlanta Hawks in the 2017 NBA Playoffs – the Wizards found a piece of themselves they haven’t had in a while.
They had a chance to steal Game 1 on the road and, to do it, they needed to exploit the Warriors when they’re typically their weakest, with both MVPs on the bench. “We’re just going to work hard to develop him and see where it takes us, but I really like what I’m seeing so far”.
With the score tied 88-88 after three quarters, the Warriors opened the fourth with a 9-2 run, going up 97-90 with 8:58 remaining and prompting the Blazers to call a timeout.
“So it made ideal sense to go to Draymond to start the fourth, and he and David West, I thought, anchored our defense really well”. But, he said engagement showed again in the final two games of the season, even with Wall and others taking time to rest small injuries. At one point in the fourth quarter, Marcin Gortat dunked on Millsap before shoving the Hawks forward and drawing a technical foul with 3:08 left in the game. Then Thompson – who had a rough, disengaged Game 1 on both ends the first three quarters – draped McCollum as he came off a screen and, combined with a pressuring West, forced a turnover, the first of six fourth quarter Blazers giveaways.
On the season, the Hawks are averaging 103.2 points, 44.3 rebounds and 23.6 assists per game.
Washington had a chance to clinch the franchise’s first 50-win season since 1978-79 but instead chose to rest players down the stretch in order to ensure its best players would be healthy and ready to square off against a familiar foe.
The Hawks took so many free throws in part because of Washington’s defensive approach.
Wall hadn’t forgotten the five fractures in his left hand and wrist that cost him three games against Atlanta two years ago, a series Washington lost as a result. “All season long, I’ve said I’m gonna wait until the season’s over and figure that stuff out, so I’m holding to that; the season’s not over yet”. The Wizards have experienced a revitalization in their play over the last half of the season and Wall has been a major component in their rise to the top half of the Eastern Conference. “He’s going to get his, that’s the problem, so we can’t have guys like (Markieff) Morris with 20”. Wall said he could tell bench players were nervous early, but the second unit responded as Brandon Jennings finished with five assists and Kelly Oubre Jr. had 11 points. It’s a physical game. Howard was limited to 29 minutes on Sunday, scoring just 7 points and grabbing 14 rebounds on 2-for-6 shooting. The Wizards have won 25 of their last 30 home games.
Budenholzer elected to keep Taurean Prince in the starting lineup, and the rookie rewarded that trust with 14 points on 6 of 11 shooting.
The play of Washington’s big men was still important and will continue to be for the duration of this series.
Like Wall, he wasn’t the only bright spot in the game for Washington.
“The difference in the game is we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA”, Millsap said. “It’s nice to play well and get the win because you have to, but this is just one little step.in the big scheme of things”.
John Wall also commented on the importance of Morris. Atlanta started 9-3, then went 1-10, then 20-9, then 7-15 and then 6-2, before giving away their final game of the regular season to IN when they sat all five starters.
The last time Atlanta and Washington faced off in the Playoffs was in 2015.
John Wall went off against the Atlanta Hawks. Will the Wizards’ lackluster bench ever cause them problems against the Hawks’ depth?
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