The Atlanta Hawks lost the opening game of this playoff series against the Washington Wizards. This article provides the Hawks keys to victory in advancing to the next round.
The Atlanta Hawks traveled to the Nation’s Capital on Sunday to open their series against the Washington Wizards. The Wizards rode the back of their All-Star Point Guard John Wall to win 114-107 in that contest. Below is a highlight video from that game in case you missed the action.
The Hawks are by no means out of this series. Sure they lost the opening game and showed some series cracks, but with a victory in Game 2 tonight, they snatch the home-court advantage and the momentum. Here are the three keys to victory for the Atlanta Hawks to win not only Game 2 but to take down this series and advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Key 1: Defense
The 114 points the Hawks allowed in Game 1 was the 4th most points any team allowed during the playoffs heading into Wednesday’s action. They need to tighten up the defense in order to win games.
The Atlanta Hawks ranked 22nd in the NBA in points scored this regular season. To further my point, they ranked 27th in offensive rating for the regular season and 4th in defensive rating. This is a team that relied on its defense to win games all regular season and then came out and laid a defensive egg in Game 1.
The positive news is they have proven to be one of the NBA’s best defensive teams and they should only improve as this series progresses. Keep an eye on the Hawks defense during this series as they will need to be stout in order to take down a good offensive club in the Wizards.
Key 2: Bigger Contribution from Starting 5
The Atlanta Hawks bench played well in Game 1, but I think they left starting five on the plane a little too long. Each member of the Hawks starting five had a negative plus/minus in Game 1. Paul Millsap was minus 20 and Dwight Howard was minus 21 in the game. It was a bad showing for all five starters.
Tim Hardaway Jr. couldn’t find his shot in Game 1 and is not known for his defense making him a liability. He needs to improve in the rest of the series. The Hawks need his scoring punch, so they must get him on track quickly.
Dennis Schroder played well on offense in Game 1, but he needs to play better defense. The Wizards’ guards are going to carry the mail for them and Schroder needs to stop them. He cannot let John Wall go off with 30 points and 12 assists every game if the Hawks are going to win this series.
The entire starting five needs to play better the rest of the way, especially against Washington’s starting group. Evening out their plus/minus could have earned the Hawks a Game 1 victory instead of the Wizards.
Key 3: Pairing Down the Rotation
I am a big fan of Coach Mike Budenholzer, but I think he made a few mistakes with his rotation in Game 1.
I understand that the Hawks are in desperate need of a backup point guard and they need some ball handling with Schroder off the court, but Jose Calderon played 8 minutes in a playoff game in 2017. I know the stat plus/minus is not the greatest statistic in the NBA, but I think it has value in showing if a player is a very bad defender. If you have a minus in your ledger chances are you have defensive liability no matter how well you can score or set your teammates up to score. Jose Calderon rated 397th in the NBA this season at minus 2.6 in plus/minus. If advanced metrics are more your thing, Calderon has had a negative defensive box score plus/minus every single season he has been in the NBA according to Basketball-Reference. They cannot afford to play Calderon against the Wizards high-scoring backcourt.
Speaking of that high-scoring backcourt, why was Thabo Sefolosha not given those minutes over Jose Calderon? Sefolosha has historically rated as a good defender and Atlanta need that in this series. It is worth noting, Sefolosha was banged up toward the end of the season, but all reports are that he is currently healthy.
I hear you that Sefolosha is not the ball handler Calderon is, but play Schroder more minutes and allow Millsap and Hardaway Jr. to handle the ball in his absence and use Sefolosha's defense to stop Wall and Bradley Beal.
My Rotation the Rest of the Way
If I am Coach Bud, I run a nine-man rotation the rest of the way. I rely heavily on my starters and then use Kent Bazemore, Ersan Ilyasova, Thabo Sefolosha, and Mike Muscala in that order. Sefolosha and Muscala end up playing similar minutes in the 10-15 minute per game range. I think this rotation gives the Hawks the best chance to win this series.
There you have it, the Atlanta Hawks three keys to victory in their opening round playoff series against the Washington Wizards. Game 2 is coming up tonight (Wednesday, April 19) before the Hawks return home for Game 3 on Saturday. Watch for these keys to victory and what Coach Budenholzer decides to change up from the Game 1 defeat. I think Coach Bud proves his mettle and the Hawks steal Game 2 tonight and have all the momentum as the series shifts to Atlanta.