BY JT SPEED
After a second consecutive physical battle headlined by a 30-point performance from star point guard John Wall, Washington was able to jump out to a 2-0 first round playoff series lead against the Atlanta Hawks. The game was a back-and-forth 109-101 win in the nation’s capital in front of a Verizon Center crowd that was much more packed than Game 1 on Easter Sunday.
Two early fouls each for Morris and teammate Otto Porter hindered the Wizards in the first quarter. Despite an early 14-0 run, the Hawks were able to bounce out to a 24-23 lead after one.
After even more whistles and double-digit free throws from each team in the second quarter alone, the Washington home crowd grew restless and would boo every decision that went against the Wizards for the remainder of the game. Nonetheless, Wall exploded for 17 first-half points and helped his team outscore the Hawks by nine in the second to carry a 51-43 lead into the locker room.
In his halftime interview with sideline reporter Chris Miller from Comcast Sports Network, Wall was critical of what he thought was unfair officiating but maintained the Wizards didn’t need to change their physical approach to the game, which led to a successful first half performance.
Wall’s teammates listened and came out of halftime aggressive on both ends of the floor. But Morris, Porter and sixth man Kelly Oubre all picked up their fourth fouls early on in the third quarter, forcing Washington to play with a weak lineup for most of the second half. They were eventually punished for it. The Hawks outscored Washington by 12 in the third, powered by a 22-7 run led by German national point guard Dennis Schroder to close out the quarter, and entered the fourth with a 78-74 lead.
Despite a weakened lineup down the stretch and continuous controversial calls from the officials (which received “Refs, you suck,” chants from the rowdy home crowd), the Wizards were able to outlast a seemingly more shallow than normal Hawks team. Washington dominated the fourth quarter, highlighted by three straight two-point jumpers and a flashy assist from backup point guard and midseason acquisition Brandon Jennings.
Bradley Beal’s dagger from behind the three-point line capped off a fantastic fourth quarter performance and put the home team up by eight with 38 seconds remaining, a lead they were able to hold until the final buzzer.
After a sluggish run to cap off the regular season, the Wizards have recovered and are playing well at the right time – John Wall and center Marcin Gorton put up their second consecutive 30-point game and double-doubles respectively. Bradley Beal dropped 31 of his own for his fifth straight 20-point playoff performance. The Wizards have a chance to finish off their first-round series with a trip to Phillips Arena, in Atlanta.
The Hawks, on the other hand, failed to gain home court advantage in the series by not picking up a game in Washington, look to be headed for another early playoff exit. Millsap, who put up a better performance than he did in Game 1 with a team-high 27 points, disappeared when it mattered most on Wednesday night with just a single field goal and three points in the fourth quarter.
With the eighth seed Chicago Bulls up two games to none on the Eastern Conference and regular-season champion Boston Celtics and defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers on the opposite side of the playoff bracket, the Wizards’ path to the conference finals looks the easiest since they had star tandem Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison in the mid-2000s.
Washington fans have much to look forward to, and plenty of playoff sports to consume at the Verizon Center with both their hockey and basketball teams poised to make deep playoff runs over the next couple of months.