Opening Statements – Game 5 Wizards vs. Hawks: Something’s Gotta Give | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements – Game 5 Wizards vs. Hawks: Something’s Gotta Give

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Updated: April 26, 2017

 

Tonight at 6pm, right around the time your local news anchors are discussing depressing and heartbreaking stories, the Washington Wizards and the Atlanta Hawks will be playing Game 5 of their first round series, live and direct from the Verizon Center.

Since Game 4, Markieff Morris hasn’t called Paul Millsap a crybaby, and Millsap hasn’t thrown a go-back-to-your-hotel directive at Morris. They say a playoff series doesn’t truly start until a road team wins, but the lack of chatter from these teams headed into Game 5, shows that both teams realize exactly what’s at stake.  A win tonight by the Hawks would mean they’d won three straight games over the favored Wizards, and it would put them in the proverbial driver’s seat before Friday night’s game in Atlanta (that game starts at the “normal” time of 7:30 by the way). A win by the Wizards would put them one step closer to avenging their bitter 2015 second-round playoff loss to the Hawks–in Atlanta no less.

The word for Atlanta in Game 4 was balance. Unlike the previous games when Dennis Schröder and Millsap shouldered the majority of the load, seven different players scored in double figures.  They received surprise contributions from Dwight Howard (16 points, 15 rebounds) and Jose Calderon (10 points, five assists and a game high plus-minus of +29).

After falling behind by nine points to the Wizards early in the second quarter, the Hawks—led by Howard and Calderon–forced the Wizards to shoot just 25-percent from the field, held them scoreless for nearly three minutes, and outscored them 31-15 to take a nine-point lead of their own. The Wizards would later close the gap to just one point, but the Hawks always seemed to be one step ahead. That quarter was the difference in the game.

Besides their dismal second quarter performance, the Washington Wizards had the same issues in Game 4 that they’ve had since the All-Star break:  the lack of consistent defense and front-court play. Calderon, and to a much lesser extent Schröder, were able to break Wall and Jennings down to get into the lane, and once the ball entered the interior, Howard and Millsap had carte blanche.  That, combined with timely open shots from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kent Bazemore, had the Wizards flummoxed and continually playing catch-up in the second half as they attempted to close the deficit.

The Wizards front-court was a virtual no-show on both ends of the floor. Yes, Gortat grabbed 18 rebounds but he was scoreless on just four shots, and his man (Howard) ran roughshod over him. Otto Porter, who injured his neck during the previous game, showed hints that his offensive slump may be ending with 13 points, but he went scoreless with zero shots attempted in 8 fourth quarter minutes. Morris, given how well he played in Game 1 and how vocal he’s been in the series overall, delivered the most disappointing front-court performance with nine points, four rebounds and five fouls–three of which came in the first half. He’s had three games to figure out the Millsap puzzle and he hasn’t come close to solving him.

So the question now is, what does a victorious formula look like for both teams? We’ll start with the Wizards.

A Quick Start

For the Wizards, a quick dominant start is a must. Gortat needs to score and feel the ball early and often, Wall and Beal have to be hitting on all cylinders at the same time, and Morris has to amass more made field goals than personal fouls. The Wizards starting lineup is averaging just 19.5 minutes a game, which is a direct result of foul trouble. If they can stay on the floor and out of foul trouble, perhaps the starters can build a bit of a cushion for the bench. If Coach Budenholzer has to call one or even two timeouts to nullify an early run, the Wizards will have done their job.

Bogdanovic and Oubre

Bojan Bogdanovic, via his post game and a wide open three-point shot, seems primed to break out of his shooting slump, which would do wonders for the Wizards bench production. If he can score 10-15 points off the bench–which is what Bazemore is doing for the Hawks–it would give the Wizards starters a chance to rest and prepare for the inevitable fourth quarter push.

As Coach Brooks has alluded to many times before and during the playoffs, Oubre’s scoring output is not a barometer for how well he plays–which means his Game 4 scoreless performance is not a big deal.  But it IS imperative that Oubre play smart on both ends and effectively on defense. Oubre, like Morris, has committed fouls in bunches, he’s taken quick shots on offense, and one occasion he managed to get an offensive foul on what should have been an easy fast-break situation. For the Wizards bench to have an advantage over Atlanta’s, Oubre has to be judicious offensively and aggressive without fouling on defense.

It’s The Defense Stupid

Given that it is the end of April and the Wizards defense has been porous since the All-Star break, it is unrealistic that they would all of a sudden become the 1986 Bears and smother the Atlanta Hawks for 48 minutes. That doesn’t mean the Wizards cannot come up with some timely defensive stops.

If Markieff could resist the temptation of fouling, and stop Millsap two or three times in the first quarter, perhaps that would throw off his rhythm and force Millsap to press a bit.  If Wall can strip or frustrate Schroder (and Calderon) into bad shots and passes, the Wizards could reactivate their running game which would energize both the crowd and the team.  And if Gortat could nullify Dwight Howard’s scoring and rebounding, it would force Coach Budenholzer to alter his rotation–something Coach Brooks had struggled to get a handle on, thanks to the Wizards’ fouling problem.

And lastly, the Wizards small forwards (Porter, Bogdanovic and Oubre) have to keep the Hawks triumvirate of Hardaway Jr, Bazemore and Taurean Prince from gaining more confidence than they already have through four games in this series. All three Hawks players have had a knack for hitting timely backbreaking, open shots without much resistance. Yes, the Wizards small forwards could nullify that by scoring, but some defensive stops would be even better.

Prediction

The Wizards will win 101-93.  It’ll be close for three quarters and when John Wall returns in the fourth quarter after his customary three minutes of rest, he will close the door on the Hawks.

LINKS

  • Kevin Garnett and his Area 21 crew of Bernard King, Gary Payton and Chris Webber, spent a few minutes reflecting on John Wall’s growth as a player and a leader. Of particular interest is Gary Payton’s take who says, “He’s gotta take responsibility on the other end of the floor.”

  • Sports Illustrated’s take-out piece extraordinaire wrote an excellent piece on John Wall. This passage in particular is enough to get any fan (or blogger) excited for Game 5:

With 10:21 left in the third quarter of Game 1 on April 16, Washington trailed the Hawks by a basket, and the Verizon Center tensed with anxiety accumulated over 38 fallow springs. From his court-side seat Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis eyed the bench for signs of agitation, but he could not detect any. Then Wall grabbed a rebound, rushed end to end, spun like a cyclone at the free throw line and found Otto Porter Jr. on the left wing for a three; careened down the right sideline and threw in a layup, slamming into Taurean Prince first and the basket stanchion second; put a hellacious crossover on Kent Bazemore, followed by a reverse layup under Dwight Howard’s Jurassic wingspan, and another double cross on Baze, punctuated by a long J; and threaded two lobs, drilled two treys, bullied Dennis Schröder into the post for a layup and embarked on one more furious dash, drawing a trio of defenders to the key before leaving a gimme for Morris. Wall created that whole rollicking mixtape in a span of 8 1⁄2 minutes, scoring or assisting on 24 points, turning a two-point deficit into a 13-point lead—and the District’s unease into euphoria. Even the distinguished owner in the blue-and-red bow tie wagged his foam finger.

Meanwhile, fourth-year shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. — the third part of Budenholzer’s injection of youth into the starting lineup — has struggled far more than Prince and Schröder. In an exclusive interview with Basketball Insiders following Sunday’s practice at Philips Arena, Hardaway, Jr said he is locked in on his defensive assignment against Bradley Beal.

“He’s one of the best players on the team, one of the best two guards in the league,” said Hardaway, Jr. “I think I’m trying to sacrifice my shots just to be able to go out there on the defensive end and defend him, just try to do whatever I can to make it tough on him.”

  • And finally TAI’s Adam McGinnis and yours truly, did a podcast on Game 4 of this Hawks/Wizards series.  Check it out here.

 

 

 

 

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.