Hawks vs. Wizards Game 3 — Things of Note

Graham Chapple —  April 23, 2017

The Atlanta Hawks won wire-to-wire against the Washington Wizards in Game 3 of their best-of-7 series 116-98, trimming the series deficit to 1-2. John Wall led the Wizards with 29 points on 10-of-12 shooting while Brandon Jennings added 13 points.

For the Hawks, they were led by Paul Millsap’s 29 points and Dennis Schröder’s 27 points.

First quarter blitz brings the Hawks back into the series

This game was essentially decided in the first quarter, a first quarter the Hawks dominated.

The Hawks scored 38 points on 65% shooting from the field and drained five three-pointers. For reference, the Hawks totalled four three-pointers in Game 2. Atlanta also held the Wizards to 20 points on 30% shooting from the floor and led by as many as 25 points in the opening period.

“They jumped on us in that first period. Their sense of urgency was very high. I wouldn’t say that we came out relaxed. We came out missing shots, but we let that affect our defense. That’s happened before with us during the season, and it’s not pretty.”

— Coach Scott Brooks

Brooks is right. The Hawks’ sense of urgency was high and it had to be. If they had lost this game it would’ve been a done deal. Commentating on Game 3 of the Cavs-Pacers series, TNT’s Kevin McHale had a great line, something along the lines of: “2-1, it’s a series, 3-0, it’s over”.

We’ve seen how good this team can be when they play with urgency. January 25th’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls on the road was such an example. The Hawks trailed by 10 points with just over three minutes to go after Dwyane Wade’s jumper forced coach Bud into a timeout. Out of that timeout the Hawks looked like a completely different team and went on a 19-4 run to win the game. This comeback/collapse, of course, led the the very well documented postgame, teammate lashing given out by Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler…

But it was Atlanta’s urgency that won them that particular game and that same urgency was apparent from the get-go as the Hawks ran out to a 13-2 lead within the first three minutes of this game. The ball was moving and the Hawks were able to get defensive stops. In short, it was Hawks basketball.

“…We haven’t come out with that effort and intensity in a long time. So to do that, in this game, it was big time for us.”

— Paul Millsap

From there, the Hawks held their nerve and the lead (one they never relinquished) and you have to give them a lot of credit. With a full three quarters remaining, leads can so easily disappear and no doubt the Hawks would’ve been aware of how the Cleveland Cavaliers overturned Indiana’s 25 point half time lead. But, again, credit the Hawks when things did get a little nervy in the fourth quarter (Bradley Beal’s layup trimming the Hawks lead to just 12 points with 7:56 remaining) the Hawks responded with a 9-0 run over the next minute of play to restore order and a 21 point lead and ensured they didn’t suffer the same fate as the Indiana Pacers.

“The aggressiveness from our group coming out of the gate, in the first quarter, set a good tone for us. Defensively we were in a good place. Just the activity and the pace that we played with offinsively created a lot of good opportunities for a lot of different people. From there, I thought we still had a lot of good stuff. They closed it a little bit a couple of times and they responded a couple of times. We just have to continue to go back to work, look at the film and figure out how we can get better from Game 3 to Game 4, come out with the same edge, the same aggressiveness.”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

Playing at home makes such a huge difference. You could sense the Hawks were feeding off of the energy from the crowd. It’s always good to be home.

It’s been a series of not overreacting. The Hawks maintained that the Wizards ‘did what they were supposed to do’. Paul Millsap maintained that, coming back to Atlanta, this series was 0-0, and John Wall isn’t getting carried away with one loss on the road.

“They did what they were supposed to do. We took care of home court. They came home, and we knew it was going to be amazing for them to play in front of their great crowd. They did what they were supposed to — come in and get Game 3. Our job is try to put the pressure on them and try to win Game 4.”

— John Wall

So, the Hawks live to fight another day but as good as this win was, the job is only half done. Game 4 still remains. This win would count for very little if the Hawks lost Game 4 and went down 3-1 before heading back to D.C. for Game 5. Game 4 takes place on Monday. and while it’s another must-win game, the Hawks can be encouraged the Wizards can be beaten, and beaten handily too, but that’ll require Washington to play almost as poorly as they did in Game 3. Is that something that’s possible? We shall see…

Return of ball movement

It took three games too many for this to become a factor in this series but Atlanta Hawks ball movement finally returned in Game 3.

Through the first two games, the Hawks posted more turnovers (39) than assists (35) which is absolutely unacceptable for a team that emphasises ball movement. However, Game 3 saw a different Atlanta — 26 assists and only 11 turnovers.

The way the ball was moving in this game wasn’t how it had been moving in the first two games, and the Hawks were on it right from the start.

From one of the first possessions of the game:

A great team move resulting in a three-pointer.

Here, everyone touches the ball and a great cut from José Calderón — freed up by Mike Dunleavy’s screen — sets up an opportunity for Paul Millsap at the rim and he scores.

You love to see that, love to see everyone getting involved in the play.

Again, the Hawks show great activity — pick-and-rolls, penetrations, dribble hand-offs… This play eventually ends with a nice pass from Kent Bazemore (who did a much better job handling the ball and making plays in this game than he did in Game 2) to Ersan Ilyasova who is fouled in order to prevent a certain two points.

This was probably my favorite play from the night. Again, everyone touches the ball, no one holds it for too long and everyone is moving. The play eventually ends with Bazemore giving the ball to Millsap before getting it back again behind the three-point line — after some nice movement — and he hits the three-pointer.

This is Atlanta Hawks basketball. It’s good to see you again…

It seemed as though the Hawks were a little tight in the first two games of this series on the road but — obviously — felt a little more loose in front of their home crowd and you could see the difference between the ball movement in this game and Games 1 and 2.

It’s no coincidence that the Hawks are a tough team to beat when the ball moves. In the regular season, they were 13-3 when they registered 29 or more assists in a game and 17-5 when they register 27 or more assists in a game. When the ball doesn’t move, we all know the story…they’re not a good team — 6-13 in the regular season (now 6-15 including the postseason) when the Hawks register less than 20 assists in a game.

“Everybody came out and protected home court. We have to do the same thing on Monday — come out with an intensity, play together and share the ball. When we do that, we’re hard to beat.”

— Dennis Schröder

The Hawks need to continue the good work they did in Game 3. If nothing else, they’ll find themselves right in contention for Game 4 if they move the ball as they did in Game 3.

Turnovers

As mentioned, the Hawks committed just 11 turnovers in Game 3 and this was absolutely key in winning this game. Turnovers and turnover points were a huge point of emphasis coming into this series and were huge factors in deciding the first two games in the Wizards’ favor. In Games 1 and 2, the Wizards scored 23 points off of Atlanta’s turnovers, and John Wall and Bradley Beal feasted off of them.

In Game 1, 20% of Washington’s 114 points came off of the Hawks’ turnovers, with 15.6% of Wall’s 32 Game 1 points coming off of turnovers, while 36.4% of Beal’s 22 Game 1 points came off of turnovers.

In Game 2, 21% of Washington’s 107 points came off Atlanta turnovers, with 18.8% of Wall’s 32 Game 1 points coming off of those turnovers, while 22.6% of Beal’s 31 points came off of turnovers.

In Game 3, however, the story was different. Only 12.2% of the Wizards’ 98 points came off of Atlanta turnovers while zero points from Wall’s 29 points and Beals 12 points came off of turnovers.

The Hawks did this while dishing out 26 assists and this, according to coach Bud, is no coincidence.

“When we are playing more aggressive and when we are playing with more pace and the ball is moving, that’s actually when we turn the ball over less. If we are worried about not moving the ball or worried about not playing with pace, I don’t think we are at our best, including not taking care of the ball with turnovers. I thought the pace, the ball movement, the player movement, all that contributed to better and more efficient offense and taking care of the ball better.”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

In contrast, the Wizards committed 15 turnovers but the Hawks scored 19 points off of those turnovers.

If the Hawks could limit their turnovers in Game 4, they should find themselves in a great position to win Game 4.

Lack of help for John Wall

John Wall just about did everything for the Wizards in Game 3 — 29 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field (although, strangely, did not attempt a field goal in the fourth quarter), 8-of-10 from the free throw line and dished out seven assists. And it was no where near enough to win this game. Wall was the only player who made a significant impact in this game, his teammates were absolutely no where in this game.

Bradley Beal: 12 points on 6-of-20 shooting and 0-of-6 from three.
Otto Porter: seven points on 3-of-7 shooting.
Markieff Morris: nine points on 4-of-14 shooting.
Marcin Gortat: two points on 1-of-4 shooting.
Jason Smith: two points.
Bojan Bogdanović: 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting.

The only player who gave the Wizards a significant lift was Brandon Jennings, who scored 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting off the bench. Jennings gave the Wizards some hope, as he — almost single handedly — cut into the Hawks’ lead in the fourth quarter, which brought Wall back off the bench.

It was apparent during that first quarter what sort of night the Wizards’ supporting cast was going to have, and after going down 19-4 inside the opening five minutes, John Wall took control for the Wizards. He was fantastic, scoring 14 of the Wizards’ 20 first quarter points, including this unbelievable dunk on Kent Bazemore.

Right after a made three from Dennis, Wall sheds Dennis with a behind-the-back move before absolutely destroying Kent Bazemore. Oh my goodness. What an absolutely incredible play.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, that was as good as their night would get, but still remain in good shape, leading 2-1 in the series.

Very briefly on Beal, he has struggled in this series from behind the arc: 6-of-27 through these three games and last night he had some great shots that just didn’t go down. The Hawks also did a few things differently.

For starters, THJ fought much harder to get over screens in this game. Here, he fights over the Gortat screen that killed him in Game 2 and contests Beal’s shot which catches nothing but air.

Pick-and-roll defense (more specifically, that Beal-Gortat pick-and-roll defense) really caused the Hawks issues in Games 1 and 2, especially with Dwight Howard’s refusal help the pinned Hardaway. But when Paul Millsap is the big guarding in this situation, it’s not a problem.

A good screen from Porter frees up Beal from Bazemore but Millsap steps up and contests the shot which, again, draws air.

“It’s probably the most I’ve seen him air ball in a game,” Wall said. “He’ll figure it out.”

“I’ve been in that situation before when Brad was playing well and I was missing shots.Those are good shots that he’s been getting all season.”

— John Wall

These were a few little things that helped the Hawks contain Beal but again, it must be said, that Beal missed quite a number of shots that he normally makes.

Regardless, the Wizards need much more from the supporting cast to help Wall, who cannot win this series on his own.

Millsap vs. Morris…it’s on

The best player-v-player rivalry in the 2017 playoffs so far just got even better.

Paul Millsap and Markieff Morris have been jawing at each other all series long, each taking shots at the other. They don’t like each other, that much is very clear. In Game 3 alone you could tell each one was hyped to make shots over the other and wouldn’t be shy in letting the other know about it too. It’s something Millsap enjoys.

“It feels good to have somebody in your face like that. It’s been awhile. To have that, it feels good.”

— Paul Millsap

You could see that Millsap really wanted to show up Morris, how badly did he want to dunk this all over Morris?

Such a shame this didn’t come off. Millsap doesn’t dunk the ball much these days but he wanted to hammer this one home.

After being outplayed by Morris in Game 1, Millsap has convincingly outplayed Morris since, outscoring Morris 46-13 in Games 2 and 3, 29 of which came in Game 3.

After sinking a number of shots over Morris, and outscoring Morris 29-9 in Game 3 in addition to handing him a loss, Morris had some things to say about Millsap postgame.

“You know, he did more for his team. He’s a crybaby. You get all the calls and you a crybaby. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

— Markieff Morris

Paul was told of this comment made by Morris and prompted great reactions from himself and Dennis Schröder, who he shared the podium postgame.

It already makes Game 4 a ‘must-watch’ because who even knows what kind of revenge Millsap might exact in Game 4…

“Take his loss…be ready for the next game”… A game in which I expect Millsap to unleash armageddon on Morris. We all know Millsap is capable of monster games in the playoffs. From last year’s series against the Boston Celtics where Millsap went off for 45 points:

We’ll soon find out if it was a smart idea for Morris to say what he said, but given how Millsap has played since Morris started jawing, it could end up in tears for Washington.

TP ready for primetime

Don’t tell Taurean Prince that rookies don’t normally help playoff teams.

Prince produced another good game for the Hawks — 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from behind the arc.

The maturity of some of these moves…you don’t expect them from a rookie playing on the biggest stage. Prince has grown so much in these last few weeks as a player and I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t nailed down a permanent role in that starting lineup.

As you’d imagine, Prince’s performance drew the praise of a number of the Hawks postgame:

“With any rookie, you just want him to get out there and play hard, Every time Taurean touches the floor, he’s out there hustling. He’s on the ground. He’s a scrappy player. He earned himself some minutes. He’s starting in the playoffs because of that. That my hat off to him. That’s the approach you have to have as a rookie.”

— Paul Millsap

Everything is earned, nothing is given. Taurean Prince.

Porter’s injury

Otto Porter, who has struggled to make an impact in this series, suffered a neck injury on this play in the third quarter:

X-rays showed a strained neck and Porter did not return to this game. It’s unclear what Porter’s status is for Game 4 at this time.

Missed freebies

It’s just as well this wasn’t a closer game because the Hawks may have been kicking themselves for their missed free throws — 19-of-32 from the line in Game 3. A number of players missed the occasional free throw, but Paul Millsap struggled in particular to sink his freebies — 5-of-9.

Again, this isn’t much of a deal in an 18 point blowout but was something worth mentioning.

Game stats: NBA.com
Hawks quotes: The AJC via Chris Vivlamore
More Hawks quotes: Peachtree Hoops via Kris Willis
Wizards quotes: The Washington Post via Candace Buckner

Graham Chapple

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