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Five takeaways: Wizards head to Atlanta up 2-0

April 20, 2017
The Wizards will head to Atlanta this weekend up 2-0 in the series. Washington protected home court in D.C., and will look to build on their performances. 

With two games down, let's take a look at five takeaways from the Wizards' first two wins and why they have come out victorious. 

The Wall Star shines on

John Wall has scored 32 points in the first two games of the series, becoming only the second Wizards player to score 30 or more points in consecutive playoff wins in franchise history and the first since 1975 when Elvin Hayes did it. In Game 1, Wall was able to shoot 12/24 from the field, added 14 assists, and made all six of his free throw attempts. On Wednesday, Wall stayed right around 50% from the field again on 9/20 shooting, hit both of his 3-point attempts, and added nine assists. Most importantly, he was able to get to the free throw line 15 times, making 12 of his attempts and attacking the rim. 

Wall has had an interesting matchup with Dennis Schroder, who Wall has said has game similar to his own. Schroder’s combination of speed and playmaking has been a tough assignment, but Wall has held Schroder to 43.2% shooting and limited him to 1/8 from beyond the arc in Game 2. Overall, Wall has been the best player on the court and leader of the team up 2-0 in the series.

“We have to take it one game at a time,” Wall said, knowing from his previous playoff experiences that looking too far ahead can cause issues. “We know that their crowd is going to be amazing. We know that they are going to play a lot better basketball and we feel like we haven’t played our best basketball yet.”  

Wizards starters dominating 

Washington’s starters have played 40 minutes together on the floor in the first two games of the series, the most minutes by a five-man lineup in the NBA so far in the playoffs. In Game 1, the lineup combination of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat saw 25 minutes on the court together, dominating their minutes on the floor. Despite foul trouble, the unit still played 15 minutes together in Game 2, playing well once again. Overall, the Wizards’ starters have been scoring 118.8 points per 100 possessions and only giving up 75.4 points per 100 possessions, equating to an absolutely dominant 43.4 Net Rating. 

As a result, the Hawks starting lineup of Dennis Schroder, Tim Hardaway Jr., Taurean Prince, Paul Millsap, and Dwight Howard has struggled in their 28 minutes, falling 35.3 points per 100 possessions behind the Wizards when they’ve played together. This starting lineup had only been used twice in the regular season, in which the Hawks were 2-0. But in the playoffs, the Wizards have exploited Atlanta’s lineup, especially with their Wall and Beal. Will Mike Budenholzer make a lineup change in Game 3? We’ll find out soon enough.

Beal in the fourth quarter

In Game 1, Bradley Beal had only 10 points on 4/13 shooting through three quarters. He was clearly struggling from the field, but he wouldn’t let his misses get to him. Beal ended up making five of his eight attempts in the fourth quarter, adding 12 points to help the Wizards seal the deal. 

Beal entered the fourth quarter of Game 2 only 6/18 from the field for 15 points. He was 2/7 from beyond the arc, and as he said after the game, was really struggling to get his shot going. But in the fourth quarter, Beal made six of his nine attempts, scoring 16 points and hitting two of three 3-point attempts.

“I feel like my flow is good, but my shot sucks,” Beal said after Game 2. “I’ve got to put the two together. I’m getting open looks, I’m getting open, my teammates are doing a tremendous job with setting me up and creating opportunities for me, but I have to knock them down. I’m happy with the looks I’m getting, so it’s just a matter of getting in the gym, staying confident, and just continuing to shoot.”

Considering he scored 31 points and thinks his shot sucks, the Wizards have to feel pretty good about what they’re getting out of their 23-year old shooting guard.

Gortat wins first two battles against Howard

Marcin Gortat and Dwight Howard’s battles down low go back to their four years in practice in Orlando. They know each other’s game very well, and it’s shown, especially on Gortat’s end. The Polish Hammer has turned in back-to-back double-doubles for the Wizards, including a 14-point, 10-rebound, 5-block performance in Game 2. Gortat protected the rim in a big way on Wednesday, stuffing Howard multiple times and defending without fouling throughout. He even guarded Paul Millsap down the stretch when the Hawks went small, getting in his face both on the perimeter and down low. With Ian Mahinmi out for the time being, Gortat has stayed out of foul trouble and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds through two games.

“I thought he has been great both games,” Brooks said after Game 2. “He has an athletic big that can have monster games in Dwight Howard. He’s done a great job of just staying around the basket [and] staying in front of them. He’s done a good job -- that’s what he’s done. He’s a big part of our team, and when he defends he helps us. He’s not known as a defender because he does so many good things offensively, but he knows how to play. He had some tough assignments – [Paul] Millsap is not an easy guard for anybody to play, and he did a good job of guarding him, also.”

Wizards' perimeter defense

The Hawks rely on their 3-point shooting to generate offense. With several lethal shooters in Tim Hardaway Jr., Ersan Ilyasova, Kent Bazemore, Mike Muscala, and Mike Dunleavy all shooting 34.5% or better from deep in the regular season.

The Wizards have just about completely taken away their threat from deep in the first two games, holding the Hawks to 24.4% shooting from beyond the arc. Atlanta has only made 11 of 45 3-point attempts, and only one player has shot 35% or better in Taurean Prince. Washington has held the Hawks to only 5/29 (17.2%) on catch-and-shoot opportunities overall, way below their 37.5% regular season mark. The Hawks are 4/25 from beyond the arc in the series on catch-and-shoot. Basically, the Wizards are defending the Hawks’ shots extremely well, with a little bit of luck. 

With their triples not falling, Atlanta has been driving a lot more. Their 77 drives are only second to the Rockets in the playoffs, while the Hawks’ 30 free throws on drives are by far the most in the league. The Wizards have actually drawn a greater percentage of fouls on their drives (22.8% to 20.8%), but the difference is that the Hawks are scoring points on 90.9% of their drives to 63.2% by the Wizards. 

Honorable mentions: Brandon Jennings' fourth quarter in Game 2, Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. in Game 1, Atlanta turnovers turning into Washington transition baskets, and Jason Smith and Bojan Bogdanovic grinding in Game 2.