The Wizards had nearly an entire week to prepare for the second round after they had swept the Toronto Raptors.
The Hawks had little more than a day.
After finishing off the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night, the Hawks had a quick turnaround to face off against the Washington Wizards on Sunday afternoon. The result was rather unsurprising: the Hawks looked great early, but appeared to be out of gas by the fourth quarter. Everyone on the Hawks was missing open jumpers, they were moving less on offense, and the defense was a step slow in completing rotations. Because of this, the Hawks’ 10-point halftime lead turned into a 104-98 loss.
After posting over 50% shooting in the first half, the Hawks put up a dread 13-for-52 (25%) in the second half. DeMarre Carroll, who scored 21 points in the first half, only made one bucket in the final 24 minutes. Kyle Korver was 2-for-9 on mostly open 3-pointers in the second half. The shooting was so bad that Al Horford’s 4-for-12 (33%) second half shooting was the best performance by any Atlanta player in the second half.
“Offensively, you can’t score 35 points in the second half and expect to beat [Washington],” said Carroll on the team’s terrible shooting stats at the end of the game.
The players were not alone in a faulty performance, as some of the coaching habits in this game by Hawks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer left something to be desired. For example, Al Horford — potentially the team’s best player — only played 14 minutes in the first half. It was not until the second half that Horford began to have some trouble with fouls, and even then, Budenholzer likely left Horford on the bench far too long in favor of Pero Antic. Antic was minus-17 in 10 minutes in the second half.
Budenholzer also elected not to foul at a critical juncture late in the game. With 35 second left and the Wizards holding a four point lead, the Hawks allowed Washington to run 20 seconds off of the clock, after which Washington still managed to score. With only about 12 seconds left and a six point deficit, the game was effectively over instead of the Hawks being able to potentially extend the game.
The positives for the Hawks from this game are obvious: shoot better and you will win. The Hawks had a lot of open shots, but simply missed. Continue to run an offense that yields open shots and the odds will eventually sway in Atlanta’s favor.
However, one negative now must be addressed: the Wizards did not shoot a great percentage, either. Also, they will now have time to adjust to what they have seen from the Hawks, which means they will be looking to limit all of the open shots that the Hawks attempted.
Game 2 of this series will be Mike Budenholzer’s most important game in his young head coaching career. Win it and the Hawks have new life and will look forward to Game 3 on Saturday in Washington. Lose it… and the Hawks’ season, which saw them win a franchise-best 60 games, will essentially be over.