The Hawks were in desperation mode entering Game 2 against the Wizards, and with John Wall being a late scratch for Washington due to a wrist injury he suffered in Game 1, that combination should have been deadly enough for Atlanta to deliver an early knockout punch.
The Wizards remained difficult, however, even with their best player sidelined. The Hawks eventually pulled away for the 106-90 victory to even the series at a game apiece, but were unimpressive in the process, which will no doubt give their opponents all kinds of confidence as the series shifts to Washington for its next two games.
Ramon Sessions got the start in Wall’s absence, and finished with a team-high 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, to go along with four assists. He didn’t impact the game the way Wall would have, but he was a more-than-serviceable replacement, and 10 of his points came in the third quarter, where the Wizards quickly cut the Hawks’ halftime lead of seven to a single point less than two minutes in. This was a theme throughout — Atlanta would build a lead of eight or 10 points, but could never fully close the door until very late in the contest.
Washington had a top-five defense during the regular season, and was second in defensive efficiency among the teams remaining after the first round of the playoffs. That effort was evident in Game 2, and the defense (along with shooting 12-of-22 from three-point distance) is what kept the Wizards continuously competitive in this one.
Atlanta did get plenty of open looks, however, and several shots simply did not fall. Kyle Korver finished 4-of-11 from three-point distance, Jeff Teague finished just 3-of-12 from the field for nine points, and Atlanta as a team made just 10 of its 29 attempts from beyond the arc.
The Wizards lost this game at the free throw line, where the Hawks finished the night with a 14-point advantage. Credit Atlanta’s signature ball movement for putting Washington in difficult situations time and again, but one of the league’s better remaining defensive units needs to play smarter at the same time.
It’s tough to take much from this individual contest, primarily thanks to Wall’s absence. But the Wizards were consistent in their ability to compete with the top-seeded Hawks for extended stretches on the road, and it’s worth wondering if things might have turned out differently had Wall not been sidelined due to injury, which was at least partly to blame for Washington’s sloppy first-quarter start.
Wall’s status moving forward will be the biggest deciding factor in the series. The Wizards catch a break in the schedule, and Wall will get five full days off before Game 3 in Washington on Saturday. They’ve now shown they can compete with or without him, and it feels like Atlanta will be in trouble if Washington can get back to full strength.