ATLANTA (AP) They’ve threatened to turn basketball into mixed martial arts.
They’ve talked trash and cursed each other out.
Now, we’ve got Washington’s Markieff Morris calling Atlanta star Paul Millsap a crybaby.
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It’s pretty clear these two teams don’t like each other .
Heading into Game 4 of their opening-round playoff series, with the Wizards holding a 2-1 lead but the Hawks buoyed by a blowout victory, the bad blood has become a major storyline.
Neither side shows any sign of backing down.
”It’s the playoffs,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said Sunday after his team worked out at Georgia Tech’s practice facility. ”We shouldn’t like each other. We want to win and they want to win. It’s not a friendly contest.”
The Wizards are still smarting from a playoff loss to Atlanta two years ago, when their chances of pulling off a major upset against the top-seeded Hawks were ruined by John Wall’s fractured hand, an injury that kept him from playing three of the six games.
This time, the Wizards are the favored team with home-court advantage.
They want payback.
”They’re the last team that knocked us out from the playoffs,” Bradley Beal said. ”We’re still a little bitter about that, even though it was two years ago. I still remember it like it was yesterday.”
When the season is on the line, the intensity always ramps up to a whole new level. Every play is approached like it’s make or break, since it very well could be. Each little slight is magnified. The guys in the other uniform are the enemy, standing in the way of your own aspirations.
Even so, Millsap said this series has taken on an uglier tone than most.
”On a personal level, yeah,” he said after the Hawks finished up their practice for Game 4 Monday night.
Not that Millsap minds.
”It’s fun to me. I’m enjoying this,” he said. ”It’s been an interesting series. It’s also been one of the funnest I’ve been a part of. I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
A quick round-by-round recap:
– In Game 1, Morris told Millsap to shut up, escalating a physical showdown between the bruising power forwards. Millsap complained after losing that ”we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA.” Morris countered that he would go ”double-MMA” on Millsap, whatever that is.
– In Game 2, Wizards star John Wall stared down and cursed at Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder after Wall had a breakaway dunk and Schroder jumped up at him from behind. There’s plenty of history between these two. Wall acknowledged that he’s still ticked off at Schroder for an Instagram post after the Hawks eliminated Washington in 2015 . Schroder responded with an expletive when asked about that little tiff.
– After losing two tough games on the road, the fired-up Hawks jumped all over the Wizards in Game 3, racing to a 25-point lead in the first quarter and cruising to a 116-98 victory Saturday night . Millsap scored 29 points and gobbled up 14 rebounds, a performance that drew praise from Morris before he got right back to the insults: ”He’s a crybaby. You get all the calls when you’re a crybaby.”
Schroder smirked a bit when asked about Morris’ assessment.
”I was laughing about it because I know it’s not true,” the Hawks point guard said. ”It’s frustration. When you lose, sometimes you’re saying things that aren’t true, maybe. But I think Paul handled it the right way and we’re going to respond. It’s a great series. They’re a good team. We’re a good team. We’re competing.”
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer would prefer that everyone keep their comments to themselves.
He’s got no complaints about the rough-and-tumble style of play, though.
”I guess there has probably been just a few choices of words that are somewhat inflammatory,” Budenholzer said. ”I think the actual games, both teams are pretty competitive, both teams are pretty physical. So I think what’s happening on the court is fairly customary for the playoffs. I think it’s important that we just keep the focus on how we’re playing.”
Washington’s Bradley Beal said there’s nothing wrong with a bit of verbal sparring – especially at this point in the season – as long as it doesn’t go any further.
”Trash talk is part of the game,” he said. ”Nobody’s out here trying to fight. Nobody’s doing anything like that. But we do trash talk. We try to get up under each other’s skin. That’s part of basketball.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .
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