February 4, 2015 – Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA
Before we get to the game: Welcome back Steve Buckhantz! On behalf of all of us at Hoop District, and the entire Wizards Nation, we missed you, and we wish you and your family the best during this difficult time.
Now, on to the game….
Last night in Atlanta, the energy and effort was not in question. From the outset, the Wizards played with good effort and good intensity. This led to some easy buckets, and some good looks early on. Unfortunately, many of these good looks resulted in bricks, or awe inspiring air balls (we’re looking at you on that 3 pointer from the wing, Garrett Temple.)
Thank God for John Wall.
Wall hit 3 first half threes to keep the Wizards within striking distance. And trust me, staying within striking distance was no easy task.
The Hawks’ gorgeous offensive arsenal was on full display, and even with the Wizards putting in the effort on D, the Hawks were getting whatever they wanted. There were the seven first half threes (by six different players). There was Paul Millsap pulling the Wizards bigs out to the perimeter, only to drive down the lane and dish off to Horford for layups or wide open midrange jumpers. There was a pass that slipped through Horford’s hands, but because of their perfect spacing, the pass traveled on in to the open arms of an open Kyle Korver in the corner for 3 (which he shockingly missed). And there was Al Horford in semi-transition, where he ended up with Gortat isolated at the top of the key, with no help, and finished with an emphatic dunk.
And as the Hawks brand of basketball sucked the life out of the Wizards, this happened:
But after Wall refused to let the Wizards die early, the rest of the Wizards decided to join the party in the 3rd quarter. Particularly Marcin Gortat, on both ends. He took on the challenge to guard Horford one on one, and finished some buckets on the other end. The confidence was contagious. Despite solid defense from the Hawks, forcing the Wizards into a number of midrange jumpers, the Wizards were able to fight back into the game. Beal was able to knock down some of those midrange jumpers (with the help of a few soft rolls). Wall hit a gorgeous jumper after some crowd pleasing ball handling. And Wall came up with a beautiful steal that Beal finished with an And-1 to cut the lead to 1. And with 1:20 left in the 3rd quarter, two Wall free throws gave the Wizards a 74-73 lead.
But the more things change, the more things stay the same. Even during the Wizards run, the Hawks continued to display their ball movement and spacing. Kyle Korver, known for his 3-point shooting, made a gorgeous cross court pass to set up a wide open 3 for DeMarre Carroll. Another possession had Teague set up Pero Antic for an effortless dunk, as Horford’s shooting kept any Wizard big from rotating to help. At one point, the Hawks had a line-up of four guards and Pero Antic, drawing the entire Wizards defense away from the basket, and letting rookie guard Dennis Schroder (the guy with the yellow spot on his head, yes) drive to the bucket for layups. As a Wizards fan, all the Hawks offensive diversity was hard to watch. As a basketball fan, it was beautiful.
Remember that 74-73 lead? The Hawks responded with an 8-0 run. Millsap found himself WIDE OPEN for a corner 3, after a beautiful ball fake, which he knocked down to give the Hawks a 9 point lead. Wall did everything he could to will the Wizards to a win. Literally, he did everything (24 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds). Beal helped (23 points). And then, this happened:
“Good night” – from Mike Scott.
The rest (even this nasty Wall finish) was just stat padding.
The Wizards can use this game as a measuring stick, and right now, they just don’t measure up. Their A game can’t match the Hawks’ A game, but right now, just a few teams can. Still, the Wizards are going to have to find a way to deal with bigs who stretch the floor. They’re going to have to have to find some reliable scoring options off the bench. Most urgently, they’re going to have to find a way to win a game. They’ve got the Hornets again tonight, who have quietly moved up to the 7th spot in the East, and won 11 of their last 14 games.
Things aren’t going to get any easier. That leaves the Wizards just one choice:
Just. Get better, #Wizards.
— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) February 5, 2015