While there is no reason to panic in Atlanta just yet, the Hawks’ Game 1 loss to the Wizards highlighted some of the troubles Atlanta has had all season. Turnovers, inconsistent defense, and a sputtering offense led to a 107-114 loss for the Hawks in the first game of the 2016-17 playoffs.
Atlanta’s 19 turnovers in Game 1 stand out as a problem. Turnovers have been a major issue for Atlanta all season; in fact, Atlanta averaged 15.8 turnovers per game, a mark that was third worst in the league with only Brooklyn and Philadelphia allowing more turnovers per game. In the regular season, this was mitigated only by the fact that Atlanta was second in the league in forcing opponent turnovers (15.3 per game). However, Washington finished the regular season just behind the Hawks in opponent turnovers per game (15.3) while protecting the ball a little bit better.
Going into tonight’s game, Atlanta cannot afford to cough up more turnovers than their opponent, because not only do the Wizards protect the ball better than Atlanta, but they are much more dangerous with live ball turnovers. The Wizards, especially John Wall, are faster than the Hawks, and giving up the ball so many times is dangerous and demoralizing. While the Hawks and Wizards both played at a similar pace during the regular season, I hope that Atlanta can control the pace better and slow things down. Atlanta’s team defense is one of its strengths and a slower pace will reduce the number of opportunities for the Wizards to attack in the chaos of transition following a turnover or rebound.
Atlanta’s defense struggled to stop Wall and Bradley Beal in Game 1. Washington’s floor general scored a postseason career-best 32 points and dished 14 assists through beautiful and skillful passes. Wall’s speed, passing vision and competitive drive (he played through a broken wrist during the second round of 2014-15 playoffs) are already well known to Atlanta fans. But Bradley Beal is the #2 in the Wizards 1-2 backcourt punch. Beal had the healthiest season of his 5-year career and because he was able to stay on the court, he recorded career bests or near bests almost across the board. Beal came alive in the second half, scoring 12 of his 22 points in the 4th quarter. He did not shoot well from three in Game 1, but he is near 40.0% career shooter from 3 and needs to be accounted for in Game 2. And almost no team gives up more 3’s than the Hawks.
The Hawks also struggled to contain Marcin Gortat in Game 1. While he only scored 14 points, it felt like he dominated the game. The defense could not cut off Gortat’s path to the basket and he made several powerful dunks despite contact with multiple Hawk defenders. Atlanta will need to adjust to keep Gortat from rolling to the rim so freely. Speaking of adjustments, Washington’s Markieff Morris had an outstanding game in his first postseason appearance and the Hawks need to plan accordingly. Paul Millsap and Morris had chippy interactions throughout Game 1 and it’s almost a sure bet that they will butt heads more in Game 2.
Atlanta has had difficulty generating offense all season. Even in the height of the Hawks’ “Spurs-East” offense, predicated heavily on ball movement and cutting, getting buckets required a lot of work in Atlanta. Now, with ball movement not as heavily featured and four of the five starters from the 2014-15 60-win Hawks playing elsewhere, Atlanta’s offense struggles most through most games. Dennis Schröder’s offense has grown this year and in Game 1 he found a balance between scoring (25 points) and facilitating (9 assists). Paul Millsap got his, scoring 19 with 9 points coming from the charity stripe. Tim Hardaway Jr and Dwight Howard were mostly MIA, both scoring only 7 points while shooting 2 of 11 and 2 of 6 respectively.
Losing a game in the playoffs is a bummer. Every game has so much more weight and it’s easy to focus on all the negatives. But there are positives for Hawks fans to look at and embrace. The Hawks bench thoroughly outperformed the Wizards’ second unit. Kent Bazemore played well over nearly 30 minutes (maybe not ‘15 million’ well, but we’re looking at the positives here). It may not have felt like it, but Atlanta actually outscored the Wizards in second chance points (18-8). Hardaway may have shot 2 for 11 last game, but considering his growth this season, I see that performance as an off night and not something to be worried about. Speaking of growth, Taurean Prince was composed in his first postseason game and continues to show the potential to be a special player.
Oh, and remember those 19 turnovers that we spent time wringing our hands over? Well, the Hawks still outscored Washington in points off turnovers with 23 points off Washington’s 12 turnovers versus the 16 points they scored off of Atlanta’s 19 turnovers. The Hawks still have all of their home games ahead of them and only need to steal one road game. It might as well be tonight’s game. We still have a long series ahead of us.