WASHINGTON (AP) After John Wall told Markieff Morris what to expect in his NBA playoff debut, the Washington Wizards’ All-Star guard showed everyone his postseason best.
Wall scored a playoff career-high 32 points and dished out 14 assists and Morris added 21 points as the Wizards rebounded from a rough second quarter to beat the Atlanta Hawks 114-107 Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round series. Feeding off Morris’ hot start to the second half, Wall scored 15 points in the third quarter alone as Washington pulled away to take the series lead.
”John can take over games, he can take over quarters, he can take over plays,” coach Scott Brooks said. ”He’s a tremendous competitor and he plays with toughness and he gets shots – 32 and 14, that’s high level All-Star game.”
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Wall hadn’t forgotten the five fractures in his left hand and wrist that cost him three games against Atlanta two years ago, a series Washington lost as a result. Conscious that he couldn’t do it all himself, Wall embraced the role as defensive stopper and facilitator on Sunday.
Seconds after feeding Morris for a dunk in his monster third quarter, Wall pointed to the court to deliver the message: ”This is my house.”
”I play with a lot of energy, a lot of intensity,” Wall said. ”When I’m not being aggressive like that and into it, I’m not a great player. But when I’m into it like that, if I’m scoring or my teammates are scoring, I’m always going to be hyped.”
Even as each team shot 28 percent from 3-point territory, scoring wasn’t a problem. Wizards guard Bradley Beal didn’t let a 3 for 10 start stunt his confidence, and he finished 6 of 11 for 22 points.
”He’s like, just reboot the computer every miss and just focus on making the next shot,” Brooks said.
That offense from Wall, Beal and Morris was enough to offset 25 points from Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder and 19 from Paul Millsap, who wasn’t pleased with Washington’s physicality and exchanged words with Morris going into halftime.
”The difference in the game is we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA,” Millsap said.
Despite the Hawks making 39 trips to the free-throw line, compared to the Wizards’ 17, the difference was the third quarter when Morris and Wall took over.
”They were more aggressive than us in the third quarter on both ends,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. ”Usually the aggressor is rewarded.”
HAWKS: Schroder shot 8 of 16 and didn’t appear to be hampered by a sprained foot that he said hurt but not enough to keep him out. … The Hawks’ 22 first-half free-throw attempts and 19 makes were their most in the first half of a playoff game since 2009 against Miami. … Dwight Howard was held to seven points but had 14 rebounds. … Thabo Sefolosha did not play, but Budenholzer said he was healthy.
WIZARDS: In addition to containing Howard, C Marcin Gortat had 14 points on 7 of 11 shooting and 10 rebounds. … Wall said he could tell bench players were nervous early, but the second unit responded as Brandon Jennings finished with five assists and Kelly Oubre Jr. had 11 points.
Twice when Wall stepped to the free-throw line, fans serenaded him with chants of ”M-V-P.” Despite Jennings’ Players’ Tribune essay making the case for Wall as MVP, Washington’s four-time All-Star broke it down as Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden, with Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas and himself in the next tier.
”I won’t be finishing first,” Wall said. ”I’ve still got some climbing to do.”
Budenholzer elected to keep Taurean Prince in the starting lineup, and the rookie rewarded that trust with 14 points on 6 of 11 shooting.
”He just played basketball,” Budenolzer said. ”He does a lot of things on both ends of the court.”
Understanding how important transition defense would be against the Wizards, the Hawks had 17 written in their locker room – the number of transition points they allowed in the first half. They were better in the second half but feel that needs to improve.
”We’ve got to stop the transition,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who shot 2 of 11. ”That’s just the first step in us getting better.”
The Hawks remain in Washington for practice with a couple of days before Game 2 at Verizon Center on Wednesday night.
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