The Atlanta Hawks scored 37 points on 64 percent shooting in the first quarter.
The Atlanta Hawks scored 35 points on 25 percent shooting in the second half.
Spin that as an improved Wizards defense or the Hawks just missing good looks (reality is it was a mix of both), it doesn’t matter. The Wizards seemed to shake off the rust from their one-week layoff in the second half, slow the pace and change the game. The Wiz hit the shots the Hawks defense gave them — John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 46 points and 14 assists — and Washington stormed back.
The Wizards picked up a 104-98 win on the road, taking a 1-0 lead over the No. 1 seed in the East. Game 2 is Tuesday night in the ATL.
This is the fourth straight series the Wizards have won Game 1 on the road, an NBA record.
“Last year, like I think I told you guys, we were just happy to be in the playoffs, we were happy to move on, and we didn’t really have any high goals after the first round,” Beal said postgame. “But this year we expect more of ourselves, we expect to get past the second round, we have that same same desperation we had in the previous round.”
“I think they made more plays in the second half than we did,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, putting it mildly. “I think defensively we just had a couple lags, a couple of lulls, that allowed them to get back in it and get a little separation. Offensively I think we’ve got to be more aggressive, we’ve got to get to the paint, attack more, and continue to move the ball, but I think that’s got to start with us being more aggressive getting to the paint.”
Atlanta was aggressive early. The Hawks of January — the team that went undefeated for a month and showed spectacular ball movement — had been largely absent through the end of the season and into the first round of the playoffs, but they showed up for the start of Game 1.
Atlanta came out moving the ball and hitting shots, going on a 9-0 run at one point and a 17-6 run in another both in the first quarter. The Wizards couldn’t keep up and trailed 37-26 after one. Then in the second quarter Dennis Schroeder used his speed to carve up the Wizards defense at the start while DeMare Carroll was knocking down threes and had 21 points in the first half.
Hawks lead comfortably 63-53 at the half, racking up an offensive rating of 131 points per 100 possessions in the first 24.
But this game was a tale of two halfs.
Washington tightened up its defense and cut off that penetration but even when the Hawks got the ball inside they didn’t finish. Plus the Wizards contested the arc better. Some of it was just the Hawks missing shots. In the first half, the Hawks were 13-of-18 inside eight feet and 9-of-17 from three. In the second half, the Hawks were 7-of-19 inside eight feet and 4-of-21 from three.
“I think the majority of the second half (we settled too much for jump shots)” Budenholzer said. “The thing you always have to be careful with, I thought we had some good looks, but I think we’ll get better looks, more consistent scoring if we’re more aggressive driving it.”
The Wizards played through injuries beautifully. John Wall injured his wrist on a hard fall in the second quarter but never left the game. Bradley Beal rolled his ankle and had to go back to the locker room in the second but returned to the game — noticeably hobbled and slower, but he returned.
Paul Pierce was his usual self in the playoffs, putting up 19 points and hitting 5-of-8 shots when contested (according to the Sports VU cameras). The Wizards also got strong bench play. Postgame Wizards coach Randy Whittman singled out Drew Gooden (12 points) and Otto Porter (10) for their contributions.
The Hawks did not — their starting lineup was +10 in 18 minutes of action, but that means when bench players were on the floor the Hawks were -16. Budenholzer got away with it against the Nets, but he might need to tighten his rotation now.