[John Wall before the tip-off.]
People will say that the Atlanta Hawks lost to the Washington Wizards on Saturday night because they were without Josh Smith. Because they were unmotivated against a free-flying Wizards team with their playoff seeding already set. A date as the five seed going to Orlando to play the Magic awaits the Hawks in the first round, but did they have to get blown out by the Wiz Kids 115-83?
Regardless of Atlanta’s effortless situation, the Wizards countered with one of their best team defensive displays of the season, turning 23 Hawks turnovers into 27 points, partially thanks to 11 steals. And as the Washington Post’s Michael Lee has written, much credit is due to D-Leaguers Larry Owens and Othyus Jeffers — Owens putting in 10 points off the bench and Jeffers scoring 13 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. The energy of on-the-cusp players has made some of the more contractually secure Wizards not take their situation for granted.
Jeffers’ contagious explosion of hustle shouldn’t be taken for granted for the next training camp the Wizards hold either. He, along with Andray Blatche, were big reasons why the Wizards got off to a 29-18 jump on Atlanta after one quarter. Blatche worked Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia to the tune of nine points, five rebounds and 3-4 from the free throw line in the period. And Jeffers picked up two boards, one offensive, and 3-4 at the charity stripe in six and a half minutes off the bench. The disinterest of Atlanta was especially evident when they allowed Yi Jianlian to counter Jamal Crawford’s 11 points in the second quarter with 10 of his own. Washington led 61-46 at half.
Jordan Crawford didn’t have a particularly good first half. Limited with three fouls, he scored just four points on 2-3 shooting in 15 minutes, but he did have three assists and zero turnovers. In the third, Crawford didn’t try to force his own offense the entire time, even though he did go 1-6 from the field in the period. Instead, he proved that he’s not a limited basketball player by dropping five assists to one turnover and three rebounds. He finished the game with six points on 3-9 shooting with an 8-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, flipping zip passes to teammates with the same confidence he has in his offense.
The Hawks rested their starters in the fourth quarter — Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, with Kirk Hinrich and Marvin Williams seeing about three minutes each. Atlanta’s reserves of Jeff Teague, Josh Powell, Pape Sy, Hilton Armstrong and Damien Wilkins were badly out-matched by Jeffers, Owens, Kevin Seraphin and Yi, with Washington point guard duties split between Mustafa Shakur and John Wall in the final period.
The Wizards polished Atlanta off 27-11 in the fourth without a care for bruises and bumps from recklessly throwing themselves all over the court, but it seemed that their 32 point win was decided at the beginning of the game when Washington proved they were not going to lay down. John Wall finished with a quietly effective 19 points on 8-15 shooting, seven assists, two turnovers, two steals, five rebounds and a block. JaVale McGee had a ho-hum but active 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 27 minutes. Blatche finished with 23 and seven, and even Mo Evans pitched in 10 points. For the team, all 10 players available played, and scored, seven Wizards reaching double figures.
If credit for the win goes to anyone, it’s Flip Saunders. His team schemed well to limit Joe Johnson with active double-teaming, and they moved better as a unit to cut off dribble penetration. On offense, the Wizards were prodded to attack by Saunders, finishing with 26 fastbreak points. The coach likely knowing from his years of experience that Atlanta was a team ripe for just not caring. Both Ernie Grunfeld and Saunders have made a great move with Jeffers (and Owens), in not only evaluating prospects, but turning also opportunities for D-Leaguers into a motivational tool. The kids are swimming in the pool, lessons are waiting to be carried forth.
To the photos…
Close your eyes and dunk.
Mo Evans in on the action.
Classic Kirk Hinrich face after Yi dunked on him.
The Bruce Bowen defense from Mo Evans on Joe Johnson, except not a foot under the shooter to hurt him. Let’s call it a veteran move.
Larry Owens hounds Kirk Hinrich.
More on the floor hustle — yes, that’s Mustafa Shakur under there.
A happy bench shot, for a change.
All good in Wizards Nation, DC town for a night.