Before going overboard with the Wizards' Game 1 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, it's important to understand that it's just one game. The goal for the road team in a series is to win one of the first two games, which flips home-court advantage, and it puts the burden on the higher seed to when on their home floor to get it back.
That's what the Wizards did in 2015 when they upset then-No. 1 seed Atlanta in Game 1. The split is the goal going into Game 2.
Now with a level head in place, time to look at what went right for the Wizards on Sunday at Verizon Center.
A lot of what transpired was reflected in the film study session that set up the series. Bradley Beal wasn't taken away as he shot 2-for-11 on 3-pointers — he just missed repeated open looks and passed on others. Marcin Gortat's help and individual defense was Ian Mahinmi-like, the ability to cover Paul Millsap without help for Markieff Morris allowed the ball pressure to take a toll elsewhere and John Wall pushed the pace whether he had numbers in transition or not and was equally successful.
Going into this series, I'd watched plenty of film on the Hawks. I stopped short of being hyper-critical of their pick-and-roll coverage because they had so many moving pieces because of injuries and ailments that it wasn't certain if it was a chemistry or IQ thing.
The Wizards went away from being pick-and-roll heavy during the regular season to mix up their attack. In fact, they incorporated more motion first under Scott Brooks and then would flow in to pick-and-roll. And they went away from it being a 1-5 (point guard-center) and used more varations such as Morris in the 1-4 which gave the option of him diving to the rim or popping instead to the three-point arc.
When in doubt and in need for a clean look at the basket, it might be in the Wizards' best interest to go to their bread-and-butter based on how lost Altanta was in coverage. And Thabo Sefolosha, who was a healthy scratch for them, might need to find his way on the court though the Hawks lose offense with such a move.
Dwight Howard's coverage too soft on pick-and-roll ballhandler
When faced with a guard who curls or comes around the screen, Howard retreats and gives up in-rhythm, foul-line/elbow jumpers. Before the shot is even released, Howard turns, boxes out and goes for the rebound. This is where stats can be deceiving. He had a game-high 14 rebounds. He did not have a good game or outplay Gortat who had fewer (10). The most dangerous place for the ball to be is in the middle of the paint because it gives the ballhander options. He can take the shot and all of his teammates are accessible so he can find them on spot-ups. No part of the floor is closed off. Collapse into the paint, the ball goes outward for long-range bombs. Howard has to take something away and not play for rebounds, or the Hawks have to mix up coverages by using big-to-big switches if necessary. Just letting Wall step in isn't good enough.
Bigs not named Howard aren't athletic enough
What are the other options? Ersan Ilyasova, a good stretch four, and Mike Muscala who plays the spread five for Atlanta. Neither can defend Gortat on the low block. Neither are going to be much help on Wall as the ballhandler. The trap of the ball has to be aggressive. Even if the result of the play is the same something has to be taken away. The moment Gortat dives, he's Muscala's switch. Jason Smith, who is the man he's originally defender, becomes Ilyasova's switch. The big-to-big switch didn't work out.
Poor job on dealing with screens
Beal had a miserable night shooting 18.2 percent from three-point range, but it wasn't because of Atlanta's steller defense. Often late getting over screens or a step slow on the trail technique, the Hawks were fortunate Beal didn't get cooking, too. His touch wasn't there, and he began to hestiate. But when he came alive late, those same type looks kept coming. He finished with 22 points. Banking on a smaller guard like Dennis Schroder being able to clear the screen for a late contest on a shooter of Beal's caliber isn't a good strategy. Howard has to help and his weakside help has to cover for him when he does.
Getting beat with numbers advantages
This took place constantly in transtion, especially when Wall pushed off long rebounds and went 1 vs. 3 or 2 vs. 4. He's fast, but getting layups and and-1s are an indication of hustle, recognizing personnel and basic basketball IQ. The Hawks went 0-for-3 in Game 1. Even when the Wizards run a ram screen — screening the help big's man who is setting the ball screen — in the half-court set when the Hawks are prepared for it they botched it. They defend 3 vs. 2. That allows Howard to get back to Gortat and Kent Bazemore is there to seal Wall from the rim. Schroder, however, dies on the recovery into the play. Bazemore gambles for the block/steal from behind and whiffs. Wall ends up with an uncontested layup that shoulnd't be.
While some of these things are fixable, some might not be. But a seven-game series is about adjustments. The Hawks will make them, but the Wizards will have theirs in anticipation. The Hawks may have to change up some personnel groupings and maybe even sacrifice some offense to get better defense.
The Wizards dropped 114 points despite shooting less than 40 percent for most of the game.