House of ‘Clutch’ Guards Chops Up Atlanta | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

House of ‘Clutch’ Guards Chops Up Atlanta

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Updated: April 21, 2017

 

John Wall, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, NBA Playoffs

(picture by Monumental Sports)

When Atlanta officially became Washington’s first round opponent in the 2017 NBA playoffs, the first thought that came to mind was revenge. The last postseason trip for the Wizards ended in a painful home defeat to the Hawks in 2015. This is from my game recap of that bitter moment in recent franchise lore.

For the fourth straight playoff game of the Eastern Conference Semifinal, the outcome came down to a shot in the final moments, and, once again, Washington finished on the short end. Pierce’s off balance, game-tying corner 3-pointer rolled in at the buzzer and blasted the Verizon Center crowd into a cosmic state. Nervous energy soon mixed into the air as everyone waited for the official decision—did he get it off in time? The seconds of anticipation felt like minutes, while the “Phone Booth” still possessed a party atmosphere due to another classic Truth Bomb.

The ref took off his headset, waved off the shot, the MC mumbled the final score, and the Hawks began to celebrate.

Game over. Series done. Season complete.

The rocking vibe hushed Wizards fans into a paralyzed state of disbelief. Thousands of fans, shocked, began to file out like zombies and others stayed in their seats, struggling to accept the reality of the situation before ushers attempted to snap them out of it. The immediate reaction was not one of sadness or anger, but an empty feeling. Nothingness. It seems only live sporting events are able to produce these odd emotions.

Sure, only eight players combined on both teams (Paul Millsap, Mike Muscala, Kent Bazemore, and Denis Schroder for Atlanta, and John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, and Otto Porter for Washington)  remain who logged playing time from that deciding Game 6, and Scott Brooks has replaced Randy Wittman on the bench for the Wizards. But the cities listed on the jerseys remain the same, along with similar stakes. Those excruciating flashbacks flooded through my head as I entered Verizon Center for Game 2 on Wednesday evening.

Akin to Washington’s series opening triumph, the contest was a choppy, borderline unwatchable foul fest. Led by Bradley Beal’s 31 points and John Wall’s 32 points and 9 assists, Washington outlasted Atlanta, 109-101. The Wizards now take a 2-0 series lead. Game 3 is in Atlanta on Saturday at 5:30pm est. The memories of how 2015 shook out will never fade away but the Wizards are just two victories away from exporting sadness to Atlanta, instead of being on the receiving end.

Observations

Fouls

Thankfully the outcome turned out in the Wiz’s favor because if the opposite transpired, this entire post would have been angry pixels on the awfulness of the referees. Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre and Markieff Morris were neutralized by foul trouble. Coach Brooks and Beal were assessed technicals. Morris and Wall appeared on the edge of being T’d up multiple times. There were 29 fouls called in the first half, 43 through three quarters and 55 total for the game. There were 47 total fouls in Game One. The teams shot a combined 71 free throws. The fans became incensed at these questionable calls, sparking incredibly audible “You Suck Refs” chants. There is a reason that Marc Davis, the lead official for the refereeing crew moderating Game 2, has been ranked one of the worst refs in the NBA.

Third Quarter

While the refs prevented Washington from getting an offensive rhythm, they still had an eight point advantage at halftime. Then Atlanta took control in the third quarter by outscoring Washington, 35-23. The Hawks went on an 18-4 run, fueled by Millsap’s 14 points. Tim Hardaway Junior and Schroder attacked the rim relentlessly. Rookie Taurean Prince chipped in 8 points. This stretch was the best Atlanta has looked all series. They took advantage of Morris and Porter being on the bench and Washington shooting only 8-for-24 (34.8%), missing all six of their 3-point attempts.

Jitterbug Jennings

The playoff media podium is set up on one half of the Wizards practice court. When entering for Brooks’s pre-game interview, Washington’s player development coach David Adkins walked in front of me, yelling, “sounds like some makes in here.” At the other end of the court, Brandon Jennings was warming up with Wiz staff. Jennings smiled and kept knocking down open jumpers. Coach Adkins foreshadowed the positive impact the 6-1 guard would have hours later and somewhat validating why the front office made him a late season acquisition. However, it didn’t start out well for Jennings. In the first half, there was a noticeable groan from the home crowd when Jennings misfired on a pull up three. His matador defense was horrendous. Jennings would redeem himself in a pivotal second half run and was a difference maker in grabbing the momentum back after Atlanta’s dominant third quarter. During the 4th quarter, Jennings cashed three straight step back jumpers, forced a turnover and made a nifty pass to create a dunk for Jason Smith. His stellar performance ignited the crowd, receiving a standing ovation when he finally came out of the game.

Three-Point Blanks

Aside from all the damn whistles, another major storyline has been the poor shooting from behind the 3-point line. In Game 2, Atlanta missed their first 9 attempts and finished the game 4-for-20. Washington went 7-for-22 on three-pointers, and didn’t make one in the second half until midway through the fourth quarter. Afterwards, I asked Paul Millsap about why his team was struggling from downtown.

“They’re doing a better job of guarding us. Simple as that. I mean they’re taking away our 3-point shooters. They’re not helping as much but I think that’s why me and Dennis [Schroder] were able to get to the basket a lot but eventually, we’re going to need that,” said Milsap. “Eventually, we’re going to need to loosen that up. Continue to attack them and make them come out of whatever defense they’re in.”

Beal was more crude in his assessment. “I feel like my flow is good, but my shot sucks. I’ve got to put the two together. I’m getting open looks,” said Beal. “ I’m getting open, my teammates are doing a tremendous job with setting me up and creating opportunities for me, but I have to knock them down.”

3-point shooting stats

Atlanta
Game One: 7-25
Game Two: 4-20
Total: 11-45 (24.4%)

Hawks players totals
Schroder: 4-13
Milsap: 1-4
Hardaway Jr: 2-10
Prince: 2-5
Bazemore: 2-6
Muscala: 0-2
Ilyasova: 0-2
Dunleavy: 0-1
Calderon: 0-2

Washington
Game One: 8-28
Game Two: 7-22
Totals: 15-50 (30%)

Wizards players totals
Beal: 6-21
Wall: 4-6
Morris: 2-7
Porter: 1-5
Bogdanovic: 1-6
Oubre: 1-3
Jennings: 0-2
Smith: 0-0

3-pointers based on closest defender in distance range

Washington
0-2 feet (very tight): 0-0
2-4 feet (tight): 3-9
4-6 feet (open): 7-20
6 plus feet (very open): 5-21

Atlanta
0-2 feet (very tight): 0-1
2-4 feet (tight): 2-10
4-6 feet (open): 2-17
6 plus feet (very open): 7-17

On contested threes: Atlanta is 3-11 (27.2%) Washington is 3-9 (33%)
On open threes: Atlanta is 9-34, (26.4%) Washington is 12-41 (29.2%)

Closing Time 

During the 2016-17 regular season, no players appeared in more clutch time situations (last five minutes of a game) than Wall and Beal at 53 games. They also produced the top winning totals at 31. Wall was fifth in total points, ninth in made field goals, first in assists, fourth in steals, fourth in made free throws and ninth in plus/minus rating. Beal was ninth in total points, eleventh in made field goals, sixth in made 3-pointers, eighth in made free throws and seventh in plus/minus rating. Porter was first in total steals and 7th in rebounds.

The success of these crunch time experiences paid off in this key playoff victory over Atlanta.  Washington trailed by 3 with 5 minutes remaining. Then the Wizards closed it out on a 18-7 run due to 8 points from Wall and Beal’s 9 points.

Wall converted a pretty And-1 reverse, crossover fade away, and slammed in a highlight breakaway dunk after his poke from behind steal. Beal finished at the rim, splashed a short jumper on a sharp curl cut, put in a layup on an great pass from Morris and stuck a ‘dagger’ three in the final minute that sent the home fans into a frenzy.

The high confidence of the backcourt in the final minutes of the game is the main ingredient needed for Washington to continue their special run. Giddy Up. 

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John Wall, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, NBA Playoffs

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Adam McGinnis
Reporter / Writer / Media at TAI
Adam is a bro from the Midwest who's been bopping around the District of Columbia for years. He's down with a range of sports, etc. and has covered the Washington Wizards for TAI since 2010.