Hawks @ Wizards Game 1 — Things of Note

Graham Chapple —  April 17, 2017

The Atlanta Hawks dropped Game 1 of their best-of-7 series against the Washington Wizards, coming out second-best in an ugly 114-107 encounter at Verizon Center. John Wall led the Washington Wizards with a new playoff-high of 32 points and 14 assists while Bradley Beal added 22 points. For the Hawks, they were led by Dennis Schröder’s 25 points.

Turnovers prove costly

From our playoff preview:

Turnovers were a big factor in the regular season-series and whichever team takes care of the ball (and in the process, limits the opposing team’s points off of turnovers) is going to have a huge advantage over the other.

It was indeed a big factor in Game 1 and it was the Wizards who were the ones who took care of the ball while the Hawks were the ones who coughed it up. The Hawks committed 21 total turnovers which led to 23 Washington points. There wasn’t really one specific player who ran up the turnover counter (though Millsap did have four), everyone contributed in that department. The one thing the Wizards love to do is run and get out in transition, and when you fuel them with turnovers they’ll churn out the fast break/turnover points.

Here, Kelly Oubre Jr. gets an arm on a pass from Ersan Ilyasova to Tim Hardaway Jr., and Oubre takes advantage with a dunk in transition.

Off of a Dennis Schröder turnover, John Wall is off to the races. His blistering pace is simply too much for the Hawks to contend with in transition and he dumps the ball to Markieff Morris for a big-time dunk.

Off of a THJ turnover (after some good defense from the Wizards), this time it’s Brandon Jennings who takes off and he finds his running mate Bojan Bogdanović.

The Hawks do a decent job getting back but the Wizards are just too quick for them on this occasion.

The Hawks’ 21 turnovers were a huge reason why the Wizards took 22 more field goal attempts (78-100) than the Hawks. When you turn the ball over, you’re not getting a chance to put up a shot and give the other team an opportunity to do so. Atlanta’s turnovers also helped the Wizards score 25 fast break points.

“…Once we get stops, we’re off to the races, and it’s tough to guard us that way.”

— Bradley Beal

Turnovers have been an issue all season long for the Hawks and if they continue to run them up like this, it could be a swift series indeed, given how Washington operate in transition. The Hawks simply must take better care of the ball in Game 2.

John Wall 

John Wall was simply unstoppable in this game, there’s not many other ways to put it. He was, by a country mile, the best player on the court in Game 1. 32 points, 14 assists and three turnovers…

Wall was fantastic all night long but he really dominated in the third quarter where he went off for 15 points and four assists, though there good be a good reason for that. Dennis Schröder may have angered him…

Bad idea, Dennis, bad idea…

When you have John Wall on your team and leading the break, fast break points come easy.

Off of a Dwight Howard miss, Wall is steams down the floor (once he and Otto Porter remove themselves from each other) and links up with Markieff Morris for a dunk.

The Hawks’ defense here wasn’t ideal. I understand Kent Bazemore was trying to cover off the Beal three in transition (which was a huge problem in the regular season-series) but in this occasion he may have been better covering the trailing Morris, who ended up with an easy dunk.

Again, off of a Hawks miss, Wall collects the rebound and he takes it coast-to-coast and ends with a layup.

Not the greatest defense by Schröder, who allowed Wall by him without a ton of resistance, it has to be said.

Again, Schröder doesn’t cover himself in glory in transition. Having just made a basket, Schröder doesn’t use the full extent of his speed to hustle back to get in front of Wall, who finishes at the rim in transition.

Schröder shows his very visible frustration after that basket, although it’s unclear (to me at least) whether he’s angry with a teammate or himself.

The Hawks will have to do a better job of preventing Wall from finishing at the rim even if it means fouling, which would mean he’d have to earn those two points, since going coast-to-coast seems easy for him.

“We’ve got John, the fastest guy in the league right now. He’s going to push the ball. Once we get the ball, we can get out, score easily, kick out for threes and go from there.”

— Otto Porter

Wall also made a good percentage of his mid-range and three-point shots, something he did not do in the regular season-series.

From the regular season-series:

From Game 1:

Wall hit 2 of his 4 three-pointers in Game 1 and when he has that mid-range and three-point shot falling it’s almost time to say goodnight…

“We started to get a lot of stops out in transition, and I got into a rhythm of knocking down shots and being more aggressive.”

— John Wall

The other really impressive thing Wall did in Game 1 was reading the defense after the pick-and-roll.

Following this pick-and-roll with Gortat, Dwight Howard steps up and switches and John Wall, preventing him from taking an open jump shot. Wall knows that Gortat has the smaller Bazemore on him and instead of settling for a jump shot (as Wall often did when the Atlanta big-man stepped up on him after a pick-and-roll) Wall zips the ball over Bazemore and right into the hands of Gortat who finishes at the rim.

A great play from Wall, exactly the right play to make in that situation. That’s what a great point guard does.

A similar play occurs in the fourth quarter. Dwight steps up to Wall following an excellently set screen set by Gortat on Dennis, and in that very brief moment where Dennis is just about to get back to Wall — and Dwight to Gortat — Wall fires the pass to Gortat and his finishes at the rim.

Excellent read and understanding of the perfect time to fire that pass. That’s one of the fantastic things about Wall, even if he’s not having a great night shooting the ball, he can change the game in so many other ways. But on this occasion, he was shooting the ball well AND finding others, and the Hawks will have to try either limit Wall or those he tries to get going.

“It’s tough, he’s a good player. We’ll have to figure something out. He’s going to get his, that’s the problem, so we can’t have guys like Morris with 20.”

— Paul Millsap

Overall, a fantastic performance from Wall who rightly deserved all the plaudits after this game.

Lack of ball movement

One of the keys to Atlanta’s 4-1 run to end the regular season (which included two wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers and a win against the Celtics) was ball movement. The Hawks averaged over 29 assists per game in their last five games and everyone understood that there was the Hawks’ improved ball movement was a huge reason why.

Despite knowing that, despite players (time after time) emphasising how important it is for the Hawks to move the ball, they only registered 18 assists in Game 1, nine of those coming from Dennis Schröder. There was a point in this game where John Wall himself had more assists (10) than the entire Hawks team (7) by the 5:29 mark in the third quarter. The third quarter.

With how bad this Hawks offense has been all season (ranking 27th in offensive rating), they can’t afford to not move the ball around in order to generate offense.

Take this possession for example. The spacing is terrible, the ball movement is basic at best and almost everyone is standing still before THJ has to launch a three before the shot clock expires.

Again, that first unit seems to struggle in moving the ball around compared to the second unit. Look at this play from the second unit in the third quarter:

Ignoring the foul call which negated the THJ three, ball movement like this was rarely seen from the Hawks in Game 1. Even Greg Anthony, who was the color analyst for TNT covering this game, was amazed how little ball and man movement was coming from a Mike Budenholzer team. He, like everyone else, has come to expect lots of man and ball movement from the Hawks and they were left disappointed.

The Wizards played some great defense in this game, to their credit, but the Hawks — in order to break down that defense — have to move the ball more if they’re to have any chance in this series because, as we know (or if you’ve watched the Hawks play on a regular basis this season), when the ball doesn’t move the Hawks just aren’t a good team at all.

Power forward matchup

The matchup at the four-spot between Paul Millsap and Markieff Morris was always going to be fascinating. Both — in different ways — were going to be vital to their team in this series but it was Markieff who outplayed Millsap i Game 1 with Morris scoring 21 points compared to Millsap’s 19. That margin looks small but Morris definitely outplayed Millsap in this game and that’s something that just cannot happen if the Hawks are to have any chance in this series.

Millsap was unhappy with the officiating in this game and for good reason. This was not called as a foul, instead, a jump ball was the eventual call once Otto Porter joined in on this play.

Add this to a few (uncalled, of course) knocks to the face and a questionable three-point foul at the end of the second quarter and you have one mad Millsap, who had some interesting comments postgame:

“The difference in the game was we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA. They were physical. When the game is like that we have to match their physicality. But again, we’ve got to go get some moves and bring them back to the court.”

— Paul Millsap

“It is what it is. If we’re going to jostle the whole series, then that’s what it’s going to be.”

— Markieff Morris

Millsap definitely got the short end of the stick in terms of the whistle but continued to remain aggressive in this game — getting to the free throw line 11 times. But you could tell Millsap was not happy, he almost looked uncharacteristically angry out there. The Hawks need to play with a fire if they’re to bounce back in Game 2 and it has to start with Millsap, who can’t get outplayed by Morris like this again if the Hawks are to stand a chance in this series.

THJ’s tough night

So often this season the Hawks have come to rely on the production on Tim Hardaway Jr., and as the limitations and struggles of the offense have become more apparent, so has the Hawks’ need in THJ’s offense. Unfortunately in Game 1, Hardaway could not find his way, seven points on 2-of-11 from the field and 0-of-6 from three.

When you’re hot, you’re hot and you’re not, you’re not. However, you can still choose to make the right decisions on the court and Timmy didn’t always take that road.

This play was especially bad. THJ receives the ball with 16 seconds on the shot clock — plenty of time to make something happen or give it up to another teammate if nothing’s on. After ignoring multiple calls from multiple teammates for the ball, Timmy holds the ball until there’s about five seconds remaining before Wall knocks the tame dribble out of THJ’s hands and out of bounds with just 1.4 seconds on the shot clock and 94 feet between the ball and the opposing rim.

THJ’s shot selection, at time, was equally poor. After dribbling the ball up the floor, THJ hoists a contested three with 16 seconds on the shot clock after absolutely no offense is run.

After Taurean Prince comes up with a defensive stop, the Hawks break in transition. THJ gives the ball to José Calderón, who immediately snaps the ball back to THJ and misses the wide open three. That’s not the bad shot though. The bad shot is the one THJ takes after his first three is rebounded by Prince.

There was an easy pass to an open Ilyasova to be had here but it was obvious that Tim was just trying to get himself on the board by this stage of the game.

Unfortunate for Hardaway that he couldn’t find his way because he had some decent looks that just wouldn’t go down. It’s also unfortunate for the Hawks who desperately need his production now more than ever. There was one thing I liked from THJ last night, however: this play where he got back in transition to close out a transition three from Bradley Beal.

That closeout just creates that little bit of extra pressure that can put off a shooter.

Oh, and THJ did destroy Bojan Bogdanović late in the third quarter:

Those were about the only things THJ did well in Game 1. The Hawks need a stronger performance from Hardaway in Game 2.

Bench differential

Heading into this series, this was the one area you thought the Hawks could top the Wizards in and that prediction was correct, at least in Game 1. The Hawks’ bench outscored the Wizards’ bench 35-15, led by Kent Bazemore’s 12 points. Meanwhile for the Wizards, outside of Kelly Oubre’s 11 points, Bojan Bogdanović was the only other Wizard to score off of the bench with 4 points.

In many ways, the Hawks were only ever close to the Wizards in this game because of their second unit. When the Hawks trailed by 11 in the first quarter, it was the second unit that rallied with a 17-2 run to take a 29-25 lead from which the Hawks built upon. After the Wizards took a 14 point lead in the third quarter, again, it was the second unit (along with Dennis Schröder) who dug into that lead and cut it, somehow, to six points by the end of the third quarter.

Atlanta’s bench has a huge part to play in this series and they did their part in Game 1 but the Hawks need stronger performances from their starters if they’re to make use of this bench advantage.

Free throws

Here’s another area the Hawks found themselves ahead of the Wizards in Game 1. The Hawks sunk 32-of-39 from the free throw line while the Wizards shot 16-of-17 from the line. Paul Millsap was aggressive and got to the free throw line 11 times, making nine. Dennis Schröder shot 6-for-6 at the line, Mike Muscala shot 4-for-4 while Ilyasova, THJ and Dwight Howard all sunk three apiece.

The Hawks have often attempted more (sometimes much more) free throws than their opposition but have struggled to make them. Not so here. The Hawks’ free throws gave them a chance to hang around in this game but the rest of their offense couldn’t take them home.

Playoff Dwight?

There’s a few players in this league who really step their game up once the playoffs arrive and, as such, playoff iterations of their names emerge. For LeBron James it’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. ‘Playoff Rondo’ is Rajon Rondo’s and ‘Playoff Dwight’ is, of course, Dwight Howard’s. However, we didn’t see really see ‘Playoff Dwight’ in Game 1 — seven points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes.

Dwight’s performance was criticised by many on Twitter and Dwight himself was criticised for being “soft”. He certainly failed to leave a significant imprint on this game. Part of that is on Dwight and part of this is on the Hawks who didn’t really get him involved and that’s something they need to do a bit more in Game 2 if they’re to unleash Playoff Dwight.

Taurean Prince

Many wondered how rookie Taurean Prince would fare in his first playoff start, starting ahead of the more experienced Kent Bazemore and the much, much more experienced Thabo Sefolosha. In the end, Prince had a good game, all things considered — 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting and 2-of-4 from behind the arc.

Some of the moves Prince made in this game were not moves you’d expect from a rookie in his first ever playoff game.

With the game-clock winding down at the end of the first quarter, Prince races toward the paint and he tucks this beautiful floater with time to spare.

And, perhaps, even more impressive than that play was this up-and-under move in the second quarter.

That’s a beautiful scoop. You wouldn’t expect that kind of move from a rookie and the confidence to take it inside in your first playoff game…that’s fantastic.

Prince has been maturing in front of our eyes as the season has progressed but has really grown in the last three weeks and you can tell. A great start to Prince’s playoff career.

No Thabo?

Thabo Sefolosha is probably the Hawks’ best perimeter defender, of that there is no question. That said, it would be extremely unusual for the Hawks not to play Thabo when you’re facing guards like Bradley Beal and John Wall, no? Well, that’s what coach Bud decided to do in Game 1: not play Thabo Sefolosha.

Pregame, Bud had said that the Hawks had no injury concerns and that everyone was available and he stuck to that postgame when questioned about Thabo’s DNP-CD:

“As we finished the season and Thabo missed a significant period of time in the middle of the season and again late. This was the rotation that we went with. He’s healthy. It’s good to know that Thabo is there and I’m sure he’ll have a role and he’ll stay ready. To go more than 10 deep is not easy but he’s a heck of an option to have at 11. We continue to consider what is best for our group.”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

Is coach Bud preparing for the Hawks for life without Thabo, who is a free agent this summer? Other than that, barring some non-disclosed team punishment, I can’t imagine why Sefolosha wouldn’t play in a playoff game.

Game 2 takes place on Wednesday at Virizon Center.

Game stats: NBA.com
Hawks quotes: The AJC via Chris Vivlamore
Wizards quotes: Washington Post via Jerry Brewer

Graham Chapple