The Hawks took care of business at home 106-90 against the Washington Wizards to even up their Eastern Conference Semifinals series at a game apiece. Washington’s John Wall was a late scratch just 60 minutes before tipoff, providing a good opportunity for Atlanta to get a vital win before the series shifts to Washington. Both Coach Budenholzer and DeMarre Carroll said after the game that the defensive plan did not change as a result of Wall’s absence, but it’s hard to believe that Jeff Teague ends up with a playoff-career-high seven rebounds if he has to contend with the taller and more athletic John Wall.
Ramon Sessions stepped up for the Wizards in Wall’s absence and played a fine game, shooting 8-for-14 for 21 points. Teague had a difficult time shooting against Washington, but contributed well in other areas of the game with the seven rebounds and eight assists. As a team, the Hawks totaled 30 assists on 37 made baskets, a byproduct of the perimeter players being able to get in the paint and find open shooters spacing the floor. Atlanta’s aggressiveness paid off in other ways; the Hawks got to the free throw line 25 times and forced Washington’s Marcin Gortat out of the game with six fouls in the fourth quarter. “We were attacking the goal this game; I think that was big for us,” Carroll said after the game.
Atlanta built another double-digit lead, as they did in Game 1, only to watch it whittle away to nothing as the Wizards came storming back. This time around, however, the Hawks rallied together and built another lead to finish off the game. Carroll spoke about the team’s mentality: “We’ve got a resilient group of guys. We know teams are going to make their runs.”
Carroll again led Atlanta in scoring with 22 points, but it was the bench contributions that has Hawks fans excited moving forward. Pero Antic, Dennis Schröder, and Kent Bazemore combined for 27 points on 7-for-13 shooting, and the Moose even got loose for 4 minutes when Antic was forced out of the game with three early fouls. Muscala saw just his second stint of action in these playoffs and while he missed both shots he took, he competed well defensively and the Hawks came out of his time no worse for wear than before. Coach Budenholzer opted for Muscala ahead of Mike Scott, who seems to have fallen completely out of the rotation. Budenholzer said after the game that Muscala is “a little longer” defensively and would give the Hawks a better presence in the paint. Given that Muscala came in for Pero Antic, who is relied upon to be a rim protector with the Hawks’ bench unit, the move makes sense, but Scott has to be a little upset that he was passed over.
Kyle Korver finished the game 4-for-11 from three, but almost all of his positive production was in the second half. He went into the half shooting just 1-for-7, but after the game told reporters that he has to “live in the moment” and not get too aggressive or passive with his shot. Al Horford and Paul Millsap had 18 points apiece and combined for 15 rebounds and 11 assists, really making the difference in the game over the Wizards’ big men; Nene and Gortat finished with 12 points on 5-for-15 shooting, 13 rebounds, and 2 assists.
The series goes to Washington for two games on Saturday and Monday. The long layoff is the Hawks’ first multi-day break since Game 2 of the first round, so Coach Budenholzer and his staff will be thankful for the time off to rest and recuperate. Of course, the extended time off may also allow for John Wall to recover from his wrist injury.