ATLANTA- The last time the Hawks played the Wizards in the regular season, John Wall finished with a double-double. Unfortunately for Wall, that double-double included double figures in the turnover category.
Wall turned the ball over 10 times to the Hawks in April, something that troubled the star guard all season against Atlanta. In Washington’s four match-ups with the Hawks, Wall accumulated 27 turnovers. On Sunday afternoon, however, Wall turned it over just twice and the entire Wizards team tied a season low with only six turnovers for the entire game. This new-found attention to ball control led the way in Washington’s 104-98 victory over Atlanta in Sunday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“After the regular season is over, everybody’s record is 0-0,” said Wall. “You’ve got to have the mindset to go over things as a group and understand what you did wrong against those guys. We turned the ball over a lot. We didn’t talk on the defensive end or move the ball offensively. Those are things we had to take care of to win.”
And win they did. The Wizards fell behind early, trailing by as many as 12 in the first half. However, Washington never let the game fall out of reach and eventually mounted a rally to take control of the game early in the fourth quarter.
“I think we just withstood them,” said Wall. “We didn’t start taking bad shots and we stayed with the offense. Brad [Beal] really got us going. Moving forward, we’ve got to do a better job early because those leads are going to increase.”
The Hawks started the game with hot hands all around. DeMarre Carroll finished the first quarter with 13 points (3-of-4 from three) and the team hit on five of their first eight perimeter shots. By the time the second half came, however, Atlanta’s hot hands cooled off considerably.
“We missed a lot of open shots and a lot of shots around the rim,” said Carroll. “Offensively, you can’t score 35 points in the second half and expect to beat a good team like Washington… The offensive execution was great. We were getting any shot we wanted. We maybe fell in love with the three a little too much. We probably should have attacked more but that’s something we can look at in the film.”
Wizards coach Randy Wittman admits both teams missed on good opportunities offensively:
“Sometimes the game boils down to some makes and misses,” said Wittman. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that they didn’t miss some good looks. But we missed some good looks. I thought our energy level stayed really high. I thought we got more organized in the second half.”
The Hawks were outscored 51-35 in the second half and Kyle Korver was uncharacteristically inefficient in the fourth, hitting on just one of seven shots in the quarter — including a wild mid-range airball.
When Carroll was asked if he felt this game was a missed opportunity for the Hawks, he responded defiantly:
“We feel like in the first half we had control of this game,” said Carroll. “In the third quarter we felt like we had control. We’ve got to look at the film and talk about how to stop this slippage at the end of the game.”
The slippage Carroll is referring to has become perhaps the Hawks’ most puzzling concern. They’ve outscored their opponents by double-digits in four of the seven first quarters they’ve played this postseason, only to relinquish those double-digit leads in all but one of those games.
“For the most part we came out aggressive,” said Carroll. “I think toward the end of the game, we kind of let loose. We had our foot on the gas and we let loose to let them catch up. It’s not a concern but it’s something we need to address.”
For the Wizards, there is some concern with injuries. Both starting guards Wall and Beal received attention from trainers after hard falls to the court. Wall injured his wrist but returned to the game after a short timeout break. A noticeably hobbled Beal landed awkwardly on his ankle in the fourth quarter and had to go to the locker room for medical evaluation. He returned to action but had trouble getting up and down the floor:
“This is the probably the worst I’ve ever turned it, honestly,” said Beal after the game. “But I knew that after I was able to walk over to the bench that I would be able to come back in. I’m mentally tough because I can’t let my team down. Even if I’m not a threat I can still be a decoy.”
Wittman, however, doesn’t want pity for the plethora of injuries.
“That’s where we’re at now,” said Wittman. “There’s probably not a guy in the locker room that feels 100% after you play 82 games and the first round of the playoffs.”
Beal added that while he’s happy with the result from Game 1, he remembers his team also won Game 1 on the road in the Eastern Conference semis last year, only to lose that series. Beal insists this year’s mindset is different.
“We have a different approach,” said Beal. “Last year we were just happy to be in the playoffs. But this year we expect more of ourselves and we expect to get past the second round.”
Jacob Eisenberg is a college senior at Emory University and works as an NBA columnist for Sheridan Hoops, specializing in analytics-based scouting reports for individual players. Follow him on Twitter and check out his website.