Five observations from the Hawks’ 116-98 victory over the Wizards in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Saturday.
1. It’s personal now.
The playoff series has been chippy from the start. Paul Millsap said the Wizards were playing Mixed Martial Arts after Game 1. The war of words escalated from there. Millsap and the Wizards’ Markieff Morris have been at the center of much of the exchanges. The back-and-forth between the two power forwards came to a head following Game 3.
Morris called Millsap a “crybaby” following the loss. He told reporters, “He just did more for his team. He’s a crybaby. Get all the calls and you a crybaby.”
Millsap said during his postgame press conference that he enjoyed the physical nature and the get-in-your-face nature of the individual battle. After hitting a 3-pointer, Morris yelled in Millap’s face all the way down the court.
“It feels good to have somebody in your face like that,” Millsap said of Morris. “It’s been awhile. To have that, it feels good.”
However, near the end of the interview, Millsap was informed of Morris’s comments. He took a breath, looked up and measured his words. Teammate Dennis Schroder covered his eyes and said ‘Oh no’ before Millsap answered.
“It definitely got personal now, yes,” Millsap said. “I don’t care. So what. Take his loss and go back to the hotel and be ready for the next game.”
Round (or Game) 4 of the series is Monday. As someone once said, get your popcorn ready.
2. Millsap backed up his words with actions. The Hawks forward, who Morris said was a soft before the series, again bested his opponent. Millsap finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal. He was 12 of 20 from the field.
“Paul was great,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He got a lot of it out of random stuff. I thought his activity getting to pick-and-rolls and getting out of pick-and-rolls and mixing up what he does when we are playing out of motion was very good. When we went to him, relied on him, I think he delivered for himself and made passes and did good things for his teammates.”
Morris finished with nine points, on 4 of 14 shooting, and six rebounds.
3. John Wall was again a giant thorn in the side of the Hawks. The Wizards guard scored 29 points on 10 of 12 shooting. Hey, it was less than the 32 points he scored in both Games 1 and 2 of the series.
Wall had seven assists after combining for 23 assists in the first two games.
Schroder picked Wall up full-court on the defensive end in an attempt to make it more difficult for the Wizards’ star. It limited Wall’s ability to get teammates involved in the offense.
“I watched video,” Schroder said. “The first two games it was too easy to just bring it up half-court and have all these passes. To be honest, it (ticked) me off. I told coach I want to be in his stuff. I want to take him full court. That’s what I did tonight and it worked well.”
4. Turnover have plagued the Hawks in the series – but not in Game 3. They committed just12 turnovers that led to 12 points by the Wizards. The Hawks combined for 39 turnovers in the first two games.
“When we are playing more aggressive and when we are playing with more pace and the ball is moving, that’s actually when we turn the ball over less,” Budenholzer said. “If we are worried about not moving the ball or worried about not playing with pace, I don’t think we are at our best, including not taking care of the ball with turnovers. I thought the pace, the ball movement, the player movement, all that contributed to better and more efficient offense and taking care of the ball better.”
5. The Hawks jumped on the Wizards from the start. They started the game on a 19-4 run and led by as many as 25 points in the first quarter. By the end of the quarter, the Hawks led 38-20 after shooting 65 percent (15 of 23) from the field and 56 percent (5 of 9) from 3-point range. Schroder had 15 first-quarter points to start the rout.
“The effort and intensity,” Millsap said of the difference. “We haven’t come out with that effort and intensity in a long time. So to do that, in this game, it was big time for us.”