This was Washington coach Scott Brooks’ appraisal of a newly tied series: “Two very good basketball teams, evenly matched, fighting for their playoff lives.”
Off the strength of Games 3 and 4, I’m not sure about the “evenly matched.” The Atlanta Hawks were better in their two wins than the Wizards were in theirs. The Hawks missed chances to steal the first two games; the Wiz whiffed royally in the second quarter of Game 4, being outscored 31-15 essentially by the Hawks’ subs. (Jose Calderon: Immense.) As mentioned elsewhere, that second quarter stands as the biggest moment of this series.
The belief here is that the Hawks are good enough to win Game 5 in D.C. and close out the Wiz in Game 6 here Friday. But I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t mention that these Hawks are apt to do what you least expect.
As Kent Bazemore, excellent in reserve Monday, said after Game 4: “This year been nothing short of amazing, the ups and downs. We’ve won seven in a row; we’ve lost seven in a row. We’ve seen it all. There’s nothing that can be thrown at us that surprises us.”
Or me. When the Hawks play as they did Monday, they’re balanced in a way Washington will never be. (They had seven men in double figures. Their bench outscored the visitors’ 32-23. Dwight Howard, who’d scored 18 points in Games 1-3, scored 16 in Game 4. Dennis Schroder had 18 points, all in the second half.
Basically, the Wizards are John Wall and Bradley Beal. Otto Porter, who averaged 13.4 points in the regular season, is averaging 8.5 in this series. So is Markieff Morris, who’s so nettled by Paul Millsap that he has more fouls (19) than baskets (16). As noted the Washington reserves are awful. The Hawks are the lower seed and won six fewer games than the Wiz, but they’re bigger and deeper and just as fast.
Then again, the Hawks weren’t 43-39 for no reason. They can do weird stuff. But they’ve been pretty good against the better teams, and what we saw in Games 3 and 4 was a continuation of their late-season flurry against Boston/Cleveland. When they get it going, they’re not a No. 5 seed.
They have it going now. Still, the cost of being a No. 5 seed is that you must win a road game to advance. The Hawks haven’t done that yet, and maybe they won’t. But the guess here is that they’ll take Game 5 and then Game 6 and be done with Round 1.