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Fast break: Wizards pull off Game 1 road shocker again


Fast break: Wizards pull off Game 1 road shocker again

ATLANTA -- When the Atlanta Hawks keep answering the Wizards every time they get close, they usually pull away with a comfortable win. Not Sunday in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference semifinal. Bradley Beal and John Wall made seemingly every key play down the stretch -- even after leaving with injuries -- to lead their team to their fourth consecutive road victory, 104-98, to open a series in the last two seasons.

Beal had a game-high 28 points and seven rebounds as the Wizards erased a 12-point deficit. Beal went down with a sprained right ankle at 8:08 of the fourth quarter with the Wizards ahead 87-83, but Wall closed by knocking down the mid-range jump shots and making two assists in the final seconds for layups.

Wall, who injured his left wrist and briefly left the floor in the first half, finished with 18 points and 13 assists. Paul Pierce scored 19. Marcin Gortat had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

DeMarre Carroll had a team-high 24 points on 8-for-13 shooting but he was the only player on Atlanta to stay hot from three-point range. Only three of his points came after halftime. Kyle Korver, the NBA's leading shooter from deep in the regular season, shot 5-for-15 overall including 3-for-11 from three. Jeff Teague shot 4-for-14. Paul Millsap made just 1 of 3 threes for 15 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Al Horford had 17 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists.

Pierce set the tone early by scoring seven of the Wizards' first nine points and Beal took over offensively by keeping his dribble alive, getting into the paint and forcing Korver to defend. 

Drew Gooden and Otto Porter combined for 22 points and 16 rebounds to lead the bench. Ramon Sessions scored five points, too. 

The Wizards won the first two road games last season in a first-round series with the Chicago Bulls, won Game 1 at the Indiana Pacers and won the first two games at the Toronto Raptors in the first round this season.

TURNING POINT: Beal's jump shot with 10:10 left gave the Wizards their first lead at 85-83 since 5-2. He then drove into the lane to draw a foul on Pero Antic for two foul shots. The Hawks, held to 35 points in the second half which was two fewer than they scored in the first quarter alone, cut their 98-91 to two and 1:21 left but Wall made pinpoint passes to Porter and Gortat for uncontested layups to seal it.  

NUMBERS GAME: The Wizards shot 38 of 91 for 41.8%, including 9 of 25 from three-point range, 36%, had a 54-52 edge in rebounds, 25-14 in second-chance points though the Hawks were plus-nine in assists with 27.

DUAL THREAT: Down 20-12, the Wizards brought in Gooden and Porter at 5:41 of the first quarter following Pierce's second foul. The duo went on an 8-0 run, each hitting a three-point shot, to tie the score and keep it from getting out of hand. Porter's three-pointer with 3:17 left spotted the Wizards a seven-point lead.

ASLEEP: Nene isn't a big fan of the early tips and he played like he still was asleep in the first half. He came up short on a wide-open 16-foot jumper that led to a runout by Carroll that produced a foul on Pierce. On the next possession, off an entry pass from Ramon Sessions, he just lost the handle for a turnover. That translated into a three-point shot by Carroll. Nene was called for an illegal screen for his second foul in the second quarter, missed a layup and the tap. Nene picked up his third foul when Carroll slipped inside of him to attempt the offensive rebound on a miss from Mike Scott. That miscue led to Korver's first three-point shot for a 44-36 lead for Atlanta. Nene didn't score in 17 minutes.

INJURY SCARES: Wall missed a layup in transition and fell hard on his left wrist, which led to a timeout and leaving the floor briefly. When the Wizards returned, Wall was still favoring his non-shooting hand but it didn't keep him off the court. Beal returned after he stepped on Horford's foot following a jump shot and spraining his right ankle. Coach Randy Wittman pulled him out at the end for Sessions because he didn't think Beal looked good defensively because of the ankle.

UP NEXT: Both teams will practice Monday before meeting for Game 2 Tuesday at Phillips Arena (TNT, 8 p.m. ET). 

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

At his final media availability of the 2017-18 season, John Wall highlighted specific types of players he wanted to see added to the Wizards roster this summer. Most notably, he pointed to an athletic big and bench scoring.

The Wizards ended up adding those things and more.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green to free agent deals, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. Howard is the athletic big and Rivers is the bench scorer Wall coveted.

Whether coincidental or not, Wall got his wish. And he's excited for the possibilities now that the Wizards appear to have shored up some weaknesses.

In his recent interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall offered thoughts on each key addition.

On Howard: "Even though he's older, he's still an athletic big and still has respect in this league. I mean, averaging [16.6 ppg and 12.5 rpg], he's a guy who can score in the low-post and block shots, a guy that gets a lot of rebounds and a guy that can catch lobs and do things that when teams switch against us or we're attacking the paint, if they help for a second then we're throwing lobs. Now, do you get more layups? Probably. Or, you get more wide open threes because guys are going to have to crack down on him. If you don't crack down on him, that's an automatic layup or a lob. I think that benefits us a lot. It's going to help. If you look at [Clint] Capela, DeAndre [Jordan] and those types of guys that are athletic, JaVale [McGee]. Even JaVale at times, being athletic and just getting to the paint. Guys are stepping up and you're throwing lobs to those guys. We have a person that can do that."

On Rivers: "I think it's going to be fun and interesting. Austin is someone who I've always watched since high school. He's a competitive guy. He definitely can score the ball. High volume shooter, once he gets it going, he's going. I think it just gives us that guy that we've never really had off the bench, that can create for himself and can create for his teammates at the two-guard position."

On Green: "Just being able to switch one through four, a guy that can post up if you put smaller guys on him. He can guard every position. He's athletic and can run the floor with us in transition. He does the little things that a lot of people don't notice."

On Brown: "He's very poised for his age. He doesn't try to force anything. The only thing I would tell him is just be more aggressive... and make mistakes. Try to make mistakes and improve your game to get better. It's going to be hard to find minutes and at practice at times with [Kelly Oubre, Jr.] and Otto [Porter, Jr.] and those guys being there."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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