Numbers may not tell the whole story of a game. Looking at the box score from Game 4 of the Washington Wizards-Atlanta Hawks first round series, it looked like the game was a neck-and-neck affair. Atlanta held a slight lead in several categories, but there were no eye-popping statistics. The Hawks outrebounded Washington by three, with the difference coming on the offensive glass. Washington committed slightly more turnovers, but the difference was only two. The two teams shot similarly (42 percent for Washington and 44 percent for Atlanta). The two teams shot similarly from deep, with Washington going 11-for-32, and Atlanta shooting 12-of-31.
But the Hawks took a halftime lead and never fell behind again. They emerged victorious, 111-101.
John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 54 points on a solid 18-of-42 shooting, but that wasn’t enough to give Washington a 3-1 series lead. Marcin Gortat pulled down an astonishing 18 rebounds, matching Dwight Howard on the glass. But despite the solid performances by several Wizards, Washington could not find a way to put together a comeback.
Seven Atlanta Hawks scored in double-digits in Game 4, including 16 and ten points for Kent Bazemore and Jose Calderon off the bench. All of the Hawks starters scored in double digits as well, yet no player scored over 19 points. It was a team effort in the Hawks’ victory.
One area in which the Wizards knew they were at a disadvantage heading into the series was the power forward spot. While Markieff Morris has been a vocal leader for Washington through this postseason run, he hasn’t been able to match Paul Millsap in the past two games. Morris called Millsap a “crybaby” after Game 3, and it seems like Millsap has let his play do the talking.
In games three and four, Millsap scored 29 and 19 respectively, while pulling down 14 and nine rebounds. Morris has scored a combined 18 points on an inefficient 7-of-24 shooting, while only pulling down six and four rebounds against Atlanta. The intensity Morris showed in games one, and two wasn’t there when the series traveled south to Atlanta.
Millsap scored ten of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. He looked absolutely unstoppable, grabbing offensive boards and simply outworking the Wizards in the low post. One play, in particular, involved Millsap getting pulled to the floor on an offensive rebound, drawing the foul and making the basket. Millsap’s toughness in the fourth extended the Hawks lead. He, Howard and rookie starter Taurean Prince combined for 33 boards for Atlanta.
While Washington kept the game close, their execution seemed flawed in the second half. They were not attacking the defense and driving to the basket, and instead settling for jumpers, playing (mostly) isolation ball. They would bring the lead to one or two points, but their execution on offense led to some poor shots. Atlanta would respond with runs to extend their lead. Credit the Hawks’ defense for being able to generate some stops, forcing some ugly shot selection by the Wizards. The Hawks had a response for every Wizards comeback attempt, and that showed in the final score, and throughout the game.
Game 5 Awaits
The series will move back to Washington for Game 5. In order for Washington gain the advantage in the series, their frontcourt needs to step up. Despite Gortat’s strong rebounding game, he scored only two points compared to Dwight Howard’s 16. Markieff Morris will also need to have a bounce back game. Millsap has essentially had his way with Morris, and he will need to be stopped after leading Atlanta to victory in games three and four.
They’ll also need to push the pace. In their games one and two victories, Washington thrived generating turnovers and running the floor for easy baskets. The Wizards saw a major uptick in their transition baskets in the regular season, and Wall’s speed should be on full display if Washington wants to protect home court.
After two disappointing losses in Atlanta, the Washington Wizards return home, trying to gain the 3-2 series advantage. They will try to recapture the uptempo, high-energy pace they played in their two victories. John Wall will again lead the charge, but will the rest of the Wizards need to step up as well. Game 5 will be played on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center.