A furious rally in late in the fourth quarter earned the Wizards a hard-fought 109-101 win over the Hawks in Game 2.
To help decipher the whys and wherefores of this game, let’s revisit the individual matchups that were so critical in Game 1.
PAUL MILLSAP VS. MARKIEFF MORRIS
This time out, Morris’ foul trouble limited him to 20 minutes and only three points. However, in the waning moments of the game, he made a terrific assist-pass out of a tight double-team that resulted in Bradley Beal scoring a layup that put Washington ahead for good.
Millsap came back from his embarrassing performance in Game 1 to post some impressive numbers — 6-of-14 (including 1-of-3 from triple-land), 14-of-15 from the stripe, 10 rebounds, and a team-high 27 points. The only blemish here were his five turnovers.
Most of Millsap’s (and Atlanta’s) points were scored on man-to-man confrontations:
- Against Morris, Millsap’s isos totaled one layup, one missed step-back jumper, and one TO.
- But Millsap had a field day when working against Jason Smith — seven points in five attacks.
- With Morris on the bench, the Wizards then tried having Marcin Gortat defend Millsap. Gortat did block a shot and force a TO, but Millap also scored six points in his six iso adventures against Gortat.
All told, a nice recovery by Millsap, who is arguably the Hawks’ most important player.
MARCIN GORTAT VS. DWIGHT HOWARD
Another workmanlike performance by Gortat to go with another underwhelming outing by Howard.
One of Gortat’s five blocks occurred when Howard tried to overpower him with a baseline move. The only other time this iso situation was reversed, Gortat plugged a step-back jumper.
Several of Gortat’s crushing screens cleared space for both John Wall and Bradley Beal to shoot unopposed jumpers. Moreover Gortat’s savvy rolls to the hoop led to his scoring three layups. Add a lefty jump-hook scored over Mike Muscala, and two buckets scored on the receiving end of drop passes, and Gortat had 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
But in addition to his screens, his blocks, and his points, Gortat also pulled down 10 rebounds and had three assists.
However, the one play that was indicative of Gortat’s value occurred in the first quarter when he dove headfirst to the floor to rescue a loose ball — and this extra possession quickly resulted in a bucket by Wall.
On the other hand, Howard made a minimal contribution — 3-of-5, seven rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block, three turnovers, and six points in 20 rather unassuming minutes. As ever, Howard was a no-show in defense of screens, and seldom challenged shots in his jurisdiction.
Once again, Gortat proved that hustle and smarts can trump empty athleticism.
JOHN WALL AND BRADLEY BEAL VS. DENNIS SCHRODER AND TIM HARDAWAY JR.
Washington’s guards shot a combined 21-of-47 (including 6-of-12 from downtown), 12 assists, four steals, and 63 points.
Basically, they were able to find makeable shots in every conceivable situation — in isolations, early offense, driving and pulling, penetrating to the hoop, curling off high and low screens, and even an occasional catch-and-shoot sequence.
And it was Wall and Beal who keyed Washington’s clutch-time surge that won the game.
Wall’s defense was likewise a major factor — drawing a critical late-game charge, then forcing a Kent Bazemore turnover and scoring a breakaway dunk that put the cap on the game.
Meanwhile, Schroder’s game was a mixed bag of nifty assists (six), mediocre shooting (8-of-21), warp-speed drives, and a total of 23 points.
However, his defenders went under every high screen, thereby letting Schroder shoot as many treys as he wished. This strategy proved highly successful when Schroder hit only 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.
Also, Schroder tallied 12 of his points in iso setups. Six against the inadequate defense of Brandon Jennings, two against Kelly Oubre Jr., two against Morris, and two against Bojan Bogdanovic.
In fact, virtually all of Atlanta’s half-court sets wound up with somebody or other either going one-on-one or trying to turn the corner after receiving a brush screen.
Hardaway was better than he had been in Game 1, an easy accomplishment since basically he had previously stunk up the court. He was 5-of-14 (including 2-of-4), 7-of-7 from the stripe for 19 points.
Yet his four TOs were costly, and both he and Bazemore were so ineffective playing the point when Schroder was resting that Jose Calderon was forced to play eight defenseless minutes.
Elsewhere, Jason Smith and Jennings produced 18 points off the bench, thereby outscoring the Hawks’ six subs by four points.
Plus, a scoring spree by Jennings midway through the fourth quarter sparked his team’s comeback.
What could turn the tide when the series reconvenes in Atlanta?
More versatility in their offense, including getting better spacing so Millsap can’t be so easily two-timed.
Getting Howard a brain transplant so he can make savvy decisions on defense.
Prohibiting Schroder from launching treys.
Getting more touches for both Muscala and Ersan Ilyasova.
Playing zones in selective situations to limit Wall’s penetration.
Hoping that Wall and Beal contract some form of ailment that will drain their energy.
Perhaps a virulent case of conjunctivitis. Or percussive hiccups. Maybe several ingrown toenails.
Indeed, it just might take some aspect of divine intervention for the Hawks to even up the series in Atlanta.