The playoffs have begun.
Make no mistake.
In a physical game – with plenty of heated words exchanged – the Hawks took one punch from the Wizards. But not two.
The Wizards grabbed control of a game they led early with a strong third quarter. The result was a 114-107 victory over the Hawks in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center.
Paul Millsap and Markieff Morris exchanged words. Dennis Schroder and John Wall exchanged words. Welcome to the NBA playoffs.
However, Millsap took issue with the physical nature in which the game was officiated. At one point, Morris dove on Millsap’s midsection as he was on the floor with a loose ball over his head. A jump ball was called.
“The difference in the game was we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA,” Millsap said of the difference in the game. “They were physical. When the game is like that we have to match their physicality. But again, we’ve got to go get some moves and bring them back to the court.”
The Wizards put up 38 third-quarter points, with John Wall scoring 15 of them. The Wizards had 17 field goals in the third quarter. They had 16 in the first half. The Wizards took an 83-76 lead into the fourth quarter despite leading by as many as 14 points in the period. The Wizards pushed their lead to as many as 15 points and held on for the series-opening win.
The Hawks closed to within five points, 108-103, with 2:04 remaining on a Taurean Prince corner 3-pointer. However, the Wizards scored the next four points from the free-throw line for enough separation.
“I thought they were more aggressive than us in the third quarter on both ends,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Usually the aggressor is rewarded. We have to remember that and take that forward.”
Dennis Schroder led the Hawks with 25 points and nine assists. The point guard had just two turnovers. Paul Millsap (19 points), Prince (14) and Kent Bazemore (12) also scored in double figures. Dwight Howard had 14 rebounds. The Hawks committed 21 turnovers that led to 23 fastbreak points.
Wall led the Wizards with a game-high and career-playoff-high 32 points and 14 assists. Bradley Beal and 22 points and Morris had 21 points. Marcin Gortat had a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“That is what John Wall do,” Schroder said. “He’s playing great this season. They are pushing the pace on offense. He found his open teammates for 3’s. He did a great job today. Defensively, they were really aggressive. We have to take advantage of that next game.”
The Hawks fell behind by 11 points in the first quarter as the Wizards took a 23-12 lead. However, the Hawks answered with a 17-2 run to end the period with a 29-25 lead. The Hawks led the entire second quarter and took a 48-45 advantage at halftime.
The Hawks took 22 first-half free throws, making 19 straight after missing their first three attempts. The Wizards took just nine with the last three questionable. Millsap was called for a three-shot foul on Morris with 0.1 seconds left in the half. Millsap objected. He and Morris exchanged words and had to be separated after the Wizards forward made all three attempts.
“Every possession counts,” Morris said. “I’m just going head first every play. It is what it is. If we gonna jostle the whole series then that’s what it’s going to be.”
Morris said the exchange with Millsap was just talk. He did not disagree when told television broadcasts appeared to show he told Millsap to “shut up.”
Game 2 is Wednesday night. The Hawks said they will be ready.
“I just want to reiterate that it’s a long series,” Millsap said. “They did what they are supposed to do. They won home-court advantage and they got this first game. They did their jobs tonight. I think it’s important that we come out and get this one Wednesday and take it back to Atlanta.”