The Washington Wizards have taken a 2-0 advantage over the Atlanta Hawks in the opening round of the 2017 playoffs.
The Hawks have fought their way through two physical games, but have come up short in both. They've lost the two games by a combined 15 points. It doesn't seem all that daunting on paper, but it was especially deflating watching the losses unfold. During the game, there were 14 lead changes and 8 ties. The Hawks led late in the game, but a few turnovers cost them the win. It wasn't pretty. The players looked just as miserable as the fans watching a game that included a ridiculous 71 free throws attempted between both teams. The Hawks have a handful of problems to address before Game 3 unfolds in Atlanta on Saturday, but here are three things that especially have sunk them so far.
Pick and Roll Defense
The Hawks were remarkably poor at defending the pick and roll ball handler during the regular season and it's a more glaring weakness now. John Wall and Bradley Beal have been blitzing the Hawks guards. In Game 2, The Wiz ran a whopping 47 pick and roll plays, 39 of those being designed for the ball handler. Beal especially seemed to get shots at will. Multiple Hawks players inexplicably went under on screens allowing Beal to get plenty of space to shoot. He made 7 of his 12 made field goals outside of the paint. He's torched the Hawks with 53 points through two games. Wall has accumulated 64 points. They're practically beating the Hawks single-handed with most of their damage being done in the pick and roll. They're doing the rest of their damage.
In contrast to how poorly the Hawks defended the pick and roll during the regular season, they were outstanding with their transition defense. They allowed the second-fewest points per possession during transition plays out of the entire league. However, it's been lacking in the postseason so far. In Game 2, John wall scored 31% of his points off fast break opportunities. Otto Porter, Jr. scored 50% of his points in the same way. The Wizards are simply faster and extremely determined to push the offense before the Hawks defense has time to set up. The Hawks might soon ditch crashing the boards in exchange for getting back on transition to stop easy buckets.
Atlanta Head Coach Mike Budenholzer is usually known for his tight rotations. This postseason, due to late season injuries and the improved play of Taurean Prince and Tim Hardaway, Jr., he's had trouble finding consistent lineups. In just two games he's deployed 28 different lineups. The starting unit has only played 28 minutes together through both games. The second most popular unit has only played 8 minutes together. This is a puzzling move from the coach that usually craves stability. There's no doubt that the inconsistency in lineups and playing time have led to some of the mishaps on both sides of the ball. Of those 28 different lineups, only 9 of them have positive +/- ratings.
The Hawks have a lot to work on in order to win a game this series. Most of it deals with stopping Wall and Beal on pick and rolls and in transition. Game 3 is in Atlanta on Saturday at 5:30 PM.