I didn’t think Hawks/Wizards would be close. Yeah it’s a 4/5 matchup but the Wizards won 49 games and the 43-win Hawks looked like the worst team in the playoffs—at least by point differential. But here we are, 2-2. The Wizards won the first two games in Washington by exerting their will in the fourth quarters. The Hawks controlled games three and four in Atlanta. I’ve got so much adrenaline for game 5 that I even decided to write something.
Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroder have been fantastic. Taurean Prince and Dwight Howard are winning their positional matchups with Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat. Atlanta’s bench has been significantly better than Washington’s, and I would have to say Mike Budenholezer is winning the coaching matchup against Scott Brooks.
Washington’s defense has been terrible, giving up 108.8 points per game to a Hawks team that scored 103.2 per game (22nd in the league) in the regular season. The Wizards had stretches this year when they defended as a unit, switching 1-4 and covering for each other. Recently they’ve been defending like five individuals. Their switches have become lazy or unnecessary and their rotations have been slow. Guys are hanging their heads after missing shots instead of realizing that most game-changing runs start on defense.
The offense will come. The Hawks were the 4th best defense in the regular season by points allowed per possession, but they also let opponents shoot 30.5 three-pointers a game, second most in the league, and hit a decent 35.7% of them, which ranked 16th. Beal and Porter are both shooting 27% from deep through four games. The two 40+% three point shooters are going to start hitting shots.
Besides hoping for progressions to the mean and an energy boost after losing two straight, here are some moves Brooks could make in game 5:
-Throw some double teams at Millsap. Markieff Morris is getting in foul trouble every game and no one else on the roster can match up with the guy. I’d like to see the Wizards get the ball out of his hands and make someone else make a play.
-Put more pressure on Schroder. The Wizards are ducking under every pick and daring him to shoot, and for four straight games he’s killed them. He’s having a coming out party at the Wizards expense and was the cause of some Washington in-fighting. Schroder is averaging 23.3 points, 6.3 assists, and only 1.8 turnovers per game in this series and has made 9/26 threes (34.6%). But this is his first playoffs as a primary option and I’m not sure he can keep this up against a defense more geared towards stopping him. Washington needs to prioritize him by pressuring him at the point of attack and being sure to have someone ready to meet him at the rim when he drives. Like with Millsap, let’s make somebody else make a play.
-Get Otto going. Seriously, contract-year Otto has been outplayed in all four games by rookie Taurean Prince. Besides running a couple plays for him, Brooks should look to play Otto as a small-ball four every minute Millsap is not on the court or is playing center. I’ve been a fan all season of Otto as a small-ball four, and I’m disappointed Brooks has been going away from that since Jason Smith has been playing well. Otto can hold up on defense against guys like Ilyasova and Muscala and he’s more effective on offense against slowpokes. He was at the four at the end of the 3rd quarter in game 4 as the Wizards briefly tied it, and he was effective in game 1 hitting the offensive glass. Come on Otto!
-Stagger Wall and Beal. Everyone got OKC flashbacks as Scott Brooks started the 4th quarter of game 4 with Wall and Beal both on the bench. Washington immediately started bleeding points, Brooks called a quick timeout, and then he STILL left Wall and Beal on the bench! 40 seconds later the Wiz had gone from tied to down eight and Brooks was forced to call another TO. For the first time this season I missed Randy Wittman and his bizarre playoff alter ego. In game 5 I expect to see Beal start the 2nd and 4th quarters when Wall rests.
-Trash the Wall/Jennings minutes. Jennings is a sieve on defense and is not a good catch and shoot player. I’d rather see Bogdanovic, who showed signs of life in game 4, as the backup two when Beal is out.
-Do a better job seeking out weak links. When Jose Calderon is on the floor the Wizards need to actively go at him. Just have whoever he’s guarding set a pick for Wall or Beal possession after possession.
Anyway that’s it for me. Bring on game 5, it’s gonna be a good one. Please just let the fans turn out for the 6 o’clock start tonight, we need ‘em.