ATLANTA -- Throw out the defensive ratings about the Wizards, and they were among the NBA's elite in scoring allowed, because this is more about how they perform against upper-tier teams such as the Atlanta Hawks who tied their second-round series at 2.
Game 5 is tonight at Phillips Arena (TNT, 8 p.m. ET).
The Wizards were shredded by the Hawks all regular season, and for the first time it looked like old times in Game 4 Monday. Jeff Teague lived in the lane, Al Horford and Paul Millsap had multiple open looks and Dennis Schroder joined in off the bench. They shot 59.1% in the first half and went on to win 106-101 which by far was their best performance of the series.
"We’re a defensive team first. When you allow teams to shoot 47 (percent) from three, 47 (percent) from the field, score over a 100 points, that’s not us at all," said Paul Pierce, who echoed similar sentiments when they allowed 106.5 points per game in a four-game stretch in March when they lost three times. "When we’re playing at our best we don’t give up 60 points in a half. That’s just doing the game plan, doing it consistently."
This gets back to something Pierce stressed earlier, too. The Wizards' greatest faults come not from effort or coaching strategy but from straying the course with the game plan. When one player forgets or tries to turn the game on his own, it causes the other four to be out of sync particularly on defense.
Teams that move the ball like Atlanta, that run a lot of pick-and-rolls and have multiple shooters, can demoralize a defense when all five players aren't connected. That causes confusion. That happened Monday.
"You make mistakes against the Hawks, that’s why they’re the No. 1 team. That’s why they won 60 games. They countered off our mistakes," Pierce said. "We got to do a better job keeping the ball out the paint. They scored a lot of points in the paint. Guard penetration. We did a better job second half but we got to be able to maintain that for 48 minutes.
“We got do better job at containing out man out the paint, make them kick it out, close out to the shooters, keep our turnovers down and rebound the ball. They got key offensive rebounds. They got key steals.”
Pierce took exception to their demeanor after a 31-point loss to the Hawks on Jan. 11. They were too happy going into a game with the San Antonio Spurs, a team that had beaten this franchise 17 times in a row. The Wizards responded on Jan. 13 with a 101-93 victory.
No one was smiling after the Wizards let one game away, and what would've been a commanding 3-1 series lead, Monday.
“We’re a resilient team. We don’t mind being on the road," Pierce said. "We know it’s an uphill battle going into their building trying to win again but I think this squad is up for the challenge."