Hawks @ Wizards Game 2 — Things of Note

Graham Chapple —  April 20, 2017

The Atlanta Hawks dropped Game 2 of their best-of-7 series against the Washington Wizards 109-101 at Verizon Center. John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 63 points to lift the Wizards to a 2-0 series lead while the Hawks were led by Paul Millsap’s 27 points and Dennis Schröder’s 23 points in what was a truly ugly affair. And unlike ripping a band-aid off, this horror show took forever and a day to pass…

Per Mike Conti of 92.9 The Game, the Hawks have never recovered from an 0-2 hole in the postseason.

A blown opportunity leaves the Hawks in real trouble

The Hawks held a 94-91 lead with just over 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and, with it, a great chance to emerge from Washington with a split. And then things went horribly wrong. Immediately, John Wall converted a three-point play after being fouled by Paul Millsap — who would commit a travel on the very next play — Bradley Beal then hit a shot, Dennis Schröder air-balled spectacularly, Kent Bazemore committed an offensive foul and then turned the ball over at a crucial point of the game…these were some of the things that happened in the final five minutes, things that helped the Wizards go on a 16-4 run that put the Hawks out of reach.

Atlanta’s best chance to steal a road game in this series came and passed them by, and they were left to rue this missed opportunity due to their poor offense and turnovers down the stretch.

“We could have gotten that game. We were right there. Down the stretch, in crunch time, we had a few turnovers and didn’t get take good shots. We have to be better in crunch time. Get an open shot at least.”

— Dennis Schröder

“We had a couple turnovers but it was still a very close game. We had some opportunities. We need to get better looks at the basket. Sometimes it was leading to easy baskets for them. I think we have to execute better offensively.”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

‘Coulda, woulda, shoulda’, but the bottom line is the Hawks now are in serious trouble, down 0-2.

They return to Atlanta ahead of Saturday’s Game 3 knowing they absolutely HAVE to win Game 3 or their season is 100% over. No team in NBA history has ever recovered from 0-3 to win the series. If the Hawks win Game 3 there’s still technically a chance they can comeback, but if they lose and go down 0-3…it’s over. It’s an unfortunate corner the Hawks are now painted in and the Wizards will sense the desperation.

This is what the Hawks’ season has come to, let’s see how they play with their backs against the wall.

Too much Wall and Beal

The Hawks didn’t do a good job in Game 1 limiting Washington’s star duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal and they did an even worse job in Game 2 as the two combined for 63 points in Game 2 (Wall scored 32, Beal scored 31 points).

Wall, again, took advantage of the Hawks’ turnovers, pushing in transition — off of a make, miss or off of a turnover — and getting to the foul line, 12-of-15 in total was John Wall from the free throw line.

Beal, meanwhile, took advantage of being defended by Tim Hardaway Jr. (who was a minus+20 on the game), poor pick-and-roll defense and solid Marcin Gortat screens.

We’ll start with THJ’s defense of Beal. He doesn’t, shall we say, provide a lot of resistance defensively…

You’re not going to get that call unless you flop much harder and even then you’re probably not getting that call. Not great defense from THJ…

After Beals spins around Paul Millsap, THJ is the only line of defense between Beal and the rim. However, THJ doesn’t do a good job contesting the shot from Beal once he gets there.

That’s way too easy from Beal and half-hearted defense from THJ. More effort is required at this time of the season.

In transition, THJ isn’t really tracking/covering anyone and his man, Bradley Beal — as he so often does — escapes the notice of the defense and Wall finds him for an open three-pointer.

“That’s what he’s capable of. He’s a great shooter. He goes out there and he continues to shoot open shots, that’s what we want him to do. March continues to set good screens for him and I think John is just trying to find him whenever he can.”

— Jason Smith

This would’ve maddened the coaching staff I’m sure, who would’ve obviously scouted and noted that Beal likes to hang back in transition as Wall pushes, before joining in around the perimeter where he’s found by Wall once he has collapsed the defense.

While Beal lit up THJ, Timmy didn’t really have a lot of help in Beal-Gortat pick-and-roll situations. Dwight Howard refuses to step up and contest the Beal jumper following the pick-and-roll, leaving THJ with so much work to in an attempt to recover from the screen.

Timmy needs help in this situation, he does well to be able to, somewhat, contest this shot but Dwight needs to step up and help.

Again off of that Beal-Gortat pick-and-roll, Dwight’s refusal to leave the paint and step up hurts the Hawks and it leads to a Beal three.

Again, it’s unfair that THJ has to fight over Gortat screens (who is an amazing screen setter, it’s not easy to keep fighting through those mean screens) and then for him to get in a position to contest the shot. He needs help and Dwight didn’t give it to him, though Schröder could’ve helped on this possession but did not contest the shot.

And the same again, Beal-Gortat screen + Dwight not stepping up to help = points for Beal.

You have to give THJ credit, he’s fighting and trying to recover but it’s so difficult when Marcin Gortat sets the screens that he does. He needs help, Dwight needs to step up and help him.

Rinse and repeat.

You can see that Dwight considers contesting this shot but ends up not doing so. If you’re THJ, what else can you do? How do you avoid those screens? You can’t, this is what Gortat does and he’s the best in the league at doing it. THJ needs help, and to his credit he is trying so hard to get back and contest but it’s just not enough.

And if you were worried — for whatever reason — that it’s not just a ( case Dwight not liking THJ and not giving him help, he does the same for Schröder too off of the Wall.

Maybe Dwight doesn’t like either THJ or Schröder. Hmmm… O.K. not really, but still…poor help in the pick-and-roll defense from Dwight. This has to be better in Game 3 otherwise we’re going to see the same thing again.

So, there you go. Those pick-and-roll opportunities created most of Beal’s 32 points, many of which could’ve been prevented had THJ (who by no means was great, at all, defensively) gotten some help from Dwight, but give Beal credit, he is averaging a league-best 14 PPG in the fourth quarter in the playoffs.

“He’s a franchise guy with me also on this team but we need him to be the scorer for us. We don’t care if he shoots the ball 30 times. I don’t think he knew he shot it 27 until he got into the locker room. Like we said, those are all good shots you’re taking. When he’s aggressive for us it opens up the floor for me and it was good to see him get it going in the fourth quarter and make some shots to close out the game.”

— John Wall

The Hawks are going to have to do a better job of slowing down Beal. If only they had a perimeter defender who could come into the game to check Beal and slow him down. If only the Hawks had such a player on their roster…

Bench battle

The one area of advantage for the Hawks in both in the regular season and in Game 1, the bench (35-15 was ATL’s bench advantage in Game 1), was nullified in Game 2 and it actually swung in Wizards’ favor as Washington’s bench outscored the Hawks’ bench 25-14.

Kent Bazemore was the only Atlanta bench player who scored over three points (notching eight points). Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala and José Calderon scored just 2 points each while Mike Dunleavy and Thabo Sefolosha were scoreless in their brief time on the court.

The Hawks’ bench, in general, was very poor. Bazemore did not play a very good game at all (particularly in the fourth quarter), Ilyasova struggled to make any impact (he just had so few good shot opportunities due to the poor offense), Muscala couldn’t get into a rhythm and Calderón was woeful on defense.

The Wizards’ bench meanwhile, was propelled by Brandon Jennings’ 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including six crucial points in the fourth quarter as John Wall rested with the Wizards still trailing.

Jennings also set the table for Jason Smith for this fourth quarter dunk.

“Many guys pitched in to get this win, there was no question, but he was a big part of it. We were down going into that stretch of the game, he came in, gave us energy, made some shots. That’s how he plays. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, he plays with an edge, and I thought those four, five minutes that he was out there, he was active on the defensive end and then did a good job of getting himself some shots.”

 Coach Scott Brooks

Jennings himself outplayed the Hawks’ bench and it was just as well he did, because no one else was going to even come close. Kelly Oubre (who scored 11 points off the bench in Game 1) struggled with foul trouble all game and scored one point while Bojan Bogdanović scored six points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field, though to be fair, Jason Smith did score eight points and outplayed Dwight Howard (we’ll get there).

You have to wonder, though, how many minutes is Bogdanović going to play in Game 3 because he was utterly useless on defense and was blown by too many times to count. He really was awful defensively.

In Game 2 more than ever did the Hawks need their bench to step up and they failed to do so and it, ultimately, proved to be costly. If they had replicated Game 1’s showing, the Hawks would’ve easily won this game.

Turnovers

As was the case in Game 1, turnovers proved to be decisive. The Hawks coughed the ball up on 18 occasions leading to 23 Washington points.

Off of the turn from Bazemore, the Wizards work the ball nicely, eventually ending up in a made field goal for Jason Smith.

The very next possession, Baze turns the ball over again, and though he recovers and blocks Oubre’s dunk, Brandon Jennings is there to follow home the block.

These two turnovers came at a time where Schröder was resting and Bud rolled with the ‘No-PG’ lineup and, immediately after these two consecutive turnovers (which resulted in points) Baze was yanked and Calderón was inserted. Baze was left fuming on the bench.

Off of a careless pass from Dwight Howard in the third quarter, John Wall races down the floor and dunks it home.

Wall had plenty to say to Schröder after that dunk too.

This is all well and fine (well, it’s not really fine but it’s just an expression), however, six of the Hawks’ 18 turns came in the final period, leading to 12 Washington points. These were the most damaging of all.

While dribbling, the ball slips out of Taurean Prince’s hands (who had a good game, it has to be said) and while the Hawks get themselves set in transition, Calderón is left to try and defend Jennings, who dances on José before knocking down a shot.

Everyone who watched this unfold knew it was going to end poorly for Calderón who, again, is not a very good defender.

Off of a turnover from THJ, Otto Porter pounces and tears down the court for the dunk.

One of four THJ turnovers, part of the reason why he’s receiving quite a bit of flak for his Game 2 performance despite his 19 points.

And, finally, the dagger. John Wall does a good job poking the ball from Kent Bazemore, and Wall is rewarded for his efforts.

The team who won the turnover battle and the team who limited the other’s points off of turnovers was always going to have a great chance to win this game and, again, it was the Hawks who lost this department. The Wizards committed just 11 turnovers leading to 12 Atlanta points.

“Turnovers killed us. We didn’t execute well. We let them play their style of game. When we do that, they obviously hurt us getting up and down the court. We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball, especially in the fourth quarter.”

— Paul Millsap

For the second game running, the Hawks totalled more turnovers (18) than they did assists (17). That’s going to have to change in Game 3. It’s now or never.

Three-point woes

The Hawks haven’t been a proficient three-point shooting team this season (23rd in 3P% and 20th in 3PM) but they struggled more than they usually do in Game 2 as they shot 20% from behind the arc. In fact, it hit a point where if they had made one or two more threes than they did…it’s a completely different game. The Hawks shot 4-of-20 from three in Game 2 but luckily for them, the Wiz only shot 7-of-22, but even those three extra threes the Wiz hit made such a huge difference.

“I think both teams are trying to take the 3-point line away from each other. We’ve got to find a way to get some and when we do get some, make them. No matter who it is. When we are teeing up 3’s and getting good looks it has a big impact on the game if we can make a couple of them.”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

Paul Millsap was pretty straight-forward about the situation postgame and the Hawks know they have to do more to open up three-point opportunities.

“They are doing a better job of guarding us. Simple as that. They are taking away our 3-point shooters. They are not helping as much. I think that’s why Dennis was able to get to the basket so much. Eventually, we are going to need that. We are going to have to loosen them up.”

— Paul Millsap

The Hawks will have to move the ball more if they’re to generate some better three-point looks.

The spacing has been awful but the Wizards’ defense has been very good too, and you have to give them credit for that. That said, the Hawks can do an awful lot more to help split that defense and open up some better shot opportunities for each other, including from three-point range. At the moment, the Hawks are making it very easy for the Wizards to guard them.

This is an adjustment that will have to be made in Game 3, the Hawks can’t shoot 20% from three and expect to win this series, perhaps even a game.

You get a foul, you get a foul…

Oh, boy. Did you enjoy the officiating last night? Good Lord… The officials were not shy about blowing that whistle, and the trend of officials swallowing the whistle in the playoffs did not happen in Game 2. Foul after foul after foul…55 fouls were committed in total.

Markieff Morris (5 fouls), Otto Porter (4 fouls), and Kelly Oubre (4 fouls) were all significantly impacted by foul trouble and this limited their minutes and production drastically. Morris scored three points in 20 minutes, Porter scored four points in 23 minutes and Oubre scored one point in 13 minutes.

Well, to be fair, at least the officials were consistent with their calls (even if they weren’t always correct) and it went both ways. The Hawks went to the free throw line 38 times while the Wizards attempted 33 free throws themselves.

However, the Hawks praised the officiating postgame, with Millsap admitting that he enjoyed the more physical style of play in Game 2

“I liked it.”

“I felt like they called the game the way it was. There were fouls out there and they called it. It was pretty balanced game. A very physical game. They did a good job tonight.”

— Paul Millsap

His coach was in agreement.

“The officials did a good job tonight. It’s the playoffs. It’s physical.”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

Markieff Morris’ idea of “double MMA” was certainly not what Game 2 turned out to be and he seemed to left disappointed by that.

“You watch the game? Hell naw.”

— Markieff Morris

To be fair, when some of these plays were replayed, they were fouls. As Paul said, they called the game the way it was. There was just a lot of fouling. Again, not every decision was correct (there were also some bad no-calls) but, for the most part, the officials did a decent job.

Dwight Howard doesn’t know

Dwight Howard put up another playoff stinker in Game 2, six points and seven rebounds in just under 20 minutes of play. Dwight, in the brief time he did play, was not a factor for the Hawks. He provided zero spacing (as he has done all season), was torn apart in the pick-and-rolls (as we’ve already looked at) and generally added nothing to this game.

Coach Bud decided that the Hawks were better off in the fourth quarter without Dwight and Howard saw zero minutes in the fourth quarter, something he wasn’t too pleased about and he looked miserable on the bench, even as the Hawks were ahead/right in this Game 2.

“It (not having Dwight on the floor) spreads the court more. It gets more ball-handlers, more guys who can get to the paint.”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

That’s a very telling quote. To, basically, say you’re better off not playing your big offseason signing in a fourth quarter of playoff game and a must-win game at that… That’s huge.

Postgame, Dwight didn’t have anything to say other than “I don’t know”.

(Random side note, I love his shirt. About the only thing from Dwight I’ve liked so far in the playoffs…)

TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal was not impressed with Dwight’s non-answers postgame, calling on Dwight to provide more for his team.

We’re only two years removed from Dwight averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds in 17 playoff games as the Rockets progressed all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Things can’t have gone that south in two years, surely?

Either way, the Hawks need more from Dwight, there’s no question about it. And they need it right now.

Sefolosha is…alive!?

Thabo Sefolosha is alive, as it turns out. Coach Bud called upon Sefolosha for the first time this series in the second quarter and, straightaway, came up with a defensive stop following this contest on Otto Porter’s shot.

Unfortunately, Thabo would only play four minutes.

Since it’s clear that Sefolosha is healthy, it’s very unusual why Budenholzer has refused to play Thabo until this point and why he hasn’t logged significant minutes in a series where John Wall and Bradley Beal are going off. Thabo can definitely help but, perhaps, coach Bud is trying to get the Hawks to a point where they don’t have rely on Thabo. A point that, seemingly, would mean that Sefolosha is set to be on his way in July, when he becomes a free agent…

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

Graham Chapple

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