Key Legislature: Wizards 117 at Hawks 102 — Peach of a Game in the A-T-L | Wizards Blog Truth About

Key Legislature: Wizards 117 at Hawks 102 — Peach of a Game in the A-T-L

Updated: March 22, 2016

TAI’s Key Legislature… The game’s defining moment, its critical event, the wildest basketball thing you ever saw, or just stuff that happened. Wizards at Hawks, Regular Season Game 70, March 21, 2016, by John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend).

The hottest team in the NBA, the 10-seed Washington Wizards, clipped the wings of the Atlanta Hawks on their home court Monday night. No easy feat: Mike Budenholzer’s pros beat the Wizards by 15 earlier this season and had won eight of their previous nine games, leading Al Horford to say before the contest: “I think we’re just peaking at the right time as a team.”

Huh. One or more college kids might call this Wizards win an “upset.”

What worked?

Budenholzer, speaking to the media pre-game, said Atlanta’s priority was to keep John Wall out of the paint. In many ways, they succeeded. Wall was forced to spend much of his time on the perimeter and his shooting numbers reflect that. He took 21 shots, leading all players, but only a third of those attempts (7) came in the paint. He made just two of his seven painted-area tries, mostly because of the type of defense seen below (1), both in transition and in the halfcourt:

Now, while Wall was held under his season scoring average in the paint, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective as both scorer and facilitator.

Even without a big night at the free throw line (4-for-5), Wall ended up scoring a game-high 27 points. The Hawks, in halfcourt situations, were committed to going over screens. This, combined with the fact that Atlanta’s bigs are trained to drop back in pick-and-roll coverage, afforded Wall the space and time to launch from his favorite spot on the floor: the top of the key. While the point guard shoots 37.1 percent from that area, slightly below league average (39.6%), he was largely unbothered, which led to very positive results: 5-for-7 from that spot on the evening. “I kind of got into a rhythm,” Wall said post-game.

Wall also used dribble drives to command attention—something Atlanta was more than willing to give—before dishing overhead passes to teammates (I hesitate to call them shooters, which suggests proficiency) waiting in the corners. Otto Porter shot 50 percent on four 3-pointers from the corners (two from each) and Garrett Temple shot his career average, .333, on three 3s from the corner.

Good enough on this night, especially since they weren’t alone in their long-range contributions. The Wizards as a team shot 13-for-25 from 3, compared to the 8-for-24 effort seen in their first meeting with Atlanta. This total was very obviously helped by the wheelings and dealings of young Bradley Beal, who scored 25 points on just 15 shots. Beal was 5-for-6 from the 3-point line, a line buoyed by shooting 3-for-3 from deep in the third quarter—and two of those third-quarter makes were set up by Wall.

Wings weren’t the only beneficiary, however. John Wall was savvy enough to manipulate the Hawks sliding defense with screening action, then delivering the right pass at the right time. Marcin Gortat was an early beneficiary and that helped him start 6-for-8 from the floor in the first quarter. Markieff Morris was the recipient of another nice, floating pass from Wall, who was pressured in the key, and finished the play with an alley-oop.

Jared Dudley made the most of this great pass from Wall, too:

Oh, one last thing: The Wizards outscored the Hawks 36-34 in the paint and 14-7 in transition. Budenholzer’s plan foiled by an All-Star. Shit happens, as they say.

“It wasn’t one of our better nights,” Budenholzer said. “I’m sure they had a lot to do with that.”

What didn’t (quite) work?

The Wizards’ pick-and-roll defense, which has been blogged about on this here basketball website.

(If you’re up to speed, great. If you’re not, follow along below, or read Kyle Weidie’s recap how the Wizards have switched up their defense of the two-man game here.)

After a win against the Bulls, the Wizards celebrated the fact that their defense was able to protect the paint in the pick-and-roll, that help-side did its job by not falling asleep, and that they were able to properly close out on shooters. The winning strategy, in simple terms, was this: go under every screen.

And that’s what the Wizards did against the Atlanta Hawks. It’s a decent strategy, from a theoretical standpoint, in that there is not only less work to do for both the primary defender on the ball, but also less responsibility put on weak-side defenders. Why? Because both the primary defender and the big guarding the roll man never leave their starting defensive zones and should therefore be in position to contest any action directed at the rim.

The problem is when the Wizards go under screens against any ball handler, whether that’s Dennis Schroeder (acceptable in that he’s an average at best 3-point shooter) or Jeff Teague, who’s shooting better than .400 from 3.

Here’s the real danger in photo form:

[Exhibit A]


Teague made this wide-open 3. Bradley Beal is barely visible in front of Al Horford, no closer than seven feet away.

The other danger in going under screens is that when dribble penetration isn’t stopped, because of lax ball pressure, it leads to open shots on the perimeter—there’s just too much ground to cover. See Exhibit B, a wide-open look for Al Horford, the forward/center who’s hitting a very respectable 35.5 percent of his 3s this year. He made this shot.

[Exhibit B]


Of course, the ball handler who beats a defender cheating under the screen (2) need not always pass it to the perimeter. Teague, in Exhibit C, chose to take (and make) an open floater because neither Bradley Beal (frozen under the basket) nor Marcin Gortat stopped the ball, fearing a quick pass to the perimeter.

[Exhibit C]


The Wizards won, it’s true, but their new-look defense is no bear trap. And it doesn’t necessarily look great on paper, either, even if they have the third best Defensive Rating (99.2) since the All-Star Break (3) behind only the Hawks and San Antonio Spurs.

Per the box score, they allowed the Hawks to shoot 48.7 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from 3-point land, which most teams would take on any given night. And Atlanta could have shot so much better (which would have been so much worse for the Wizards). See, the Hawks took 78 total shots on Monday night and nearly two-thirds of those (62.8%) were uncontested, created by the very same action seen above. Unfortunately, and alternatively great news for Washingtonian basketball fans, the Hawks were unable to capitalize. They shot just 18-for-49 (36.7%) on uncontested shot attempts. In fact, they shot much better on contested shots (20-29), but those were few and far between, relatively speaking.

Uncontested FG%

  • Kent Bazemore: 0-for-4
  • Paul Millsap: 1-for-5
  • Al Horford: 4-for-10
  • Kyle Korver: 0-for-1
  • Jeff Teague: 5-for-13
  • Dennis Schroeder: 1-for-5

The best result was that sharpshooter Kyle Korver was held to just two field goals. That said, what the numbers suggest is that the Wizards, who were not only underdogs by the Vegas line (+6.5) but also by FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projections (4), got a liiiitle bit lucky in the ATL. Because it’s hard to believe that the group of players in the bulleted list above will shoot 28 percent on open shots again.

It will be interesting to see how the Wizards defend the Hawks when they meet again this Wednesday in D.C.

(Fun fact that may only interest me: The Hawks are 18-1 when shooting above .500 from the field. That would have only required one additional made field goal.)

What’s next?

As above, so below: Another game against the Atlanta Hawks. They can’t be expected to miss as many wide-open shots at they did in Philips Arena, even if they’ll be in front of a (not quite) hostile crowd in the nation’s capital.

Another win over Atlanta would be great, but a loss could ultimately prove catastrophic for Washington’s playoff aspirations. A few minutes before the final buzzer in Atlanta, the 8-seed Detroit Pistons beat Milwaukee 92-91. And about a half hour later, the 9-seed Chicago Bulls took care of the Sacramento Kings 109-102.

No ground gained, no ground lost. The surprisingly streaky Wizards, now .500 on the season, remain 1.5 games back.

“We know our backs are against the wall with what we’re trying to accomplish,” Wall said. “We’ve just got to keep grinding and competing.”

If they finish the season 7-5, they’re more than probably guaranteed a spot in the postseason.

Closing statement?

Dang, Johnny. Back at it again with the step-back J.

  1. Wall actually made a layup on this play, despite being fouled. (He’d miss the and-1 free throw.)
  2. John Wall in the screenshot marked “Exhibit C”.
  3. This DefRtg is helped by a cupcake schedule, which has included a set of games against the 76ers, a contest against the Cavs without LeBron James, etc.
  4. Given 3:1 odds to beat the Hawks before the game.
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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.