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Takeaways from Wizards' close out of Hawks in Game 6

Takeaways from Wizards' close out of Hawks in Game 6

ATLANTA – The closeout game on the road is supposed to be the toughest, and though the Wizards made it look easy most of the way Friday they found out just how tough it can be vs. the Atlanta Hawks.

They almost blew most of a 22-point lead and had to weather a furious comeback that trimmed their lead to as little as 93-90 in the fourth quarter before pulling away to take the series with a 115-99 victory at Phillips Arena. It was their first road win of the first-round series won by Washington 4-2.

Bradley Beal (31 points) and John Wall (playoff career-high 42 points, eight assists) dominated from the outset and had enough of their role players show up with them. They went into halftime leading 65-46 only to lose their edge until Wall shut down the Hawks' momentum single-handedly.

After Beal’s turnover, he chased down Dennis Schroder (26 points, 10 assists) to block him at the rim to prevent the lead being trimmed to one. Wall then broke down the defense, got into the paint and made an incredible bank shot in traffic and a mid-range pull up to push the Wizards ahead 97-90 with 7:33 left. 

Wall and Beal got them out to front in a game they never trailed but allowed Atlanta back into hit after scoring 36 third-quarter points. Coach Mike Budenholzer went to a smaller lineup and spread the floor to get clutch threes from Kent Bazemore (nine points) and Jose Calderon (six points) off the bench.

The Hawks only trailed 46-42 on a shot from Taurean Prince (four points) in the second quarter but the Wizards ended the half on a 19-4 run behind tenacious defense that created easy buckets. 

Markieff Morris (17 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) had his best outing since Game 1, Bojan Bogdanovic (10 points) was a spark off the bench and Otto Porter (eight points, eight rebounds) had a workmanlike effort on both ends as he hit 2 of 4 threes and created problems for Atlanta withh his defensive pressure.

Paul Millsap (31 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) and Schroder led Atlanta but didn’t get much from anyone other than Tim Hardaway (13 points) and Dwight Howard (nine points, seven rebounds) as he had most of his production in the first quarter. 

Wall had 19 points in the fourth. He combined with Beal to shoot 27-for-42 overall, or 64.2%.

– Coach Scott Brooks opted to go with a small lineup in the fourth quarter, using Bogdanovic instead of Marcin Gortat as Howard stayed parked on the bench. 

– Calderon cut the deficit to 93-90 for Atlanta but that’s when the fun began. Wall had the chasedown and a series of jumpers. Beal also made a jumper off a curl and Wall drained another for a 106-97 lead and made sure anyone in earshot knew about it.

– Kelly Oubre had five steals by halftime. He was put on Schroder along with Porter and their length bothered him. As a team, the Wizards had 11 steals in the first 24 minutes. Oubre gave Schroder fits in their last regular-season game. Porter also had a key strip of Millsap on a post-up of Morris that negated a possession. In all, the Hawks had 22 turnovers that led to 27 points for Washington.

– Morris made a concerted effort to keep his hands to himself and allowed Millsap to have some shots that he was contesting in the previous games. Morris went to the locker room with no fouls and even though Millsap had 14 points he countered with 13 of his own on 5-for-7 shooting.

– The Hawks have been loading the paint at every turn, even in transition, if it means keeping Wall from the rim. It has allowed shooters to walk into spot ups that they’ve missed all series but the Wizards made them pay for it. Porter, Morris, Beal, Bogdanovic and Oubre combined to go 6-for-10 in the first half alone. Bazemore and Schroder ran at Wall to slow him down on a push. He threw it ahead to Beal on a corner spot up for an 84-65 lead. 

– For the first time, the Hawks tried to play through Howard in the post and even though he got off to a good start by making 3 of 4 shots it’s a recipe for failure. No one else on the floor is a threat because he’s not a creator. Howard had five turnovers in just 22 minutes played. Bazemore, an unreliable ballhandler to shocked the Wizards with seven assists in a Game 4 win for Atlanta, had seven turnovers himself. Millsap was forced into six. 

– Gortat made his first shot, his second attempt of the game, at 6:42 of the third quarter. The Hawks continued to take away his dives to the basket and he was content to do the dirty work to make the offense run such as sealing Howard to prevent him from contesting shots in the paint and getting tap outs for extra possessions. Howard had the better stats again. Gortat, who only played 18 minutes because of the small ball, had the more effective game.

– Jason Smith only played 11 minutes after he left Game 5 with a hyperextended knee. He was a game-time decision and didn’t appear any worse for wear but the Wizards didn’t rely on him to log too many minutes. Morris didn’t pick up a first-half foul made it more likely that he’d play extended time to protect Smith longer term. Smith was 0-for-1. Morris played 40 minutes.  

MORE WIZARDS: Foul on Beal sparks confrontation between Wizards and Hawks

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Aces' Liz Cambage tells Mystics forwards to 'get in the weight room or get out of the post'

Aces' Liz Cambage tells Mystics forwards to 'get in the weight room or get out of the post'

One of the WNBA’s most dominant players is Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces. She’s unforgiving, wears her heart on her chest, and is truly one of a kind.

When the center is playing her finest basketball no one in the league can stop her. Sunday's Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals against the Washington Mystics had Cambage playing at her finest. 

Matching her season-high, Cambage waltzed to 28 points in only 27 minutes of playing time. Several Mystics took their turn at trying to slow her down. Every Mystic had a chance to help at least at double-teaming the Ace's leading scorer. Primarily it was Emma Meesseman and LaToya Sanders that drew the assignment responsibility, but everyone had a role.

It did not matter in Las Vegas. Throughout the whole contest, Cambage rolled over the interior of the Mystics defense. She scored at ease as the tallest player on either roster for the Mystics and the Aces. 

The Australian knew she could not be stopped. Postgame she analyzed why she was able to command the post so well on ESPN2’s broadcast. In the process, she put several Mystics on blast. 

“They got small forwards guarding me. If they can’t handle it, get in the weight room or get out of the post. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing my thing inside,” Cambage told Kim Adams.

She’s talking about the 6-4 Meesseman, the 6-3 Sanders. But it doesn't matter whomever the Mystics put on the 6-8 Cambage, there will be a significant matchup advantage for the Aces. 

Not only does she have a clear edge in her height, but she does her build as well. Cambage possesses the ideal structure of a WNBA center. She stands at 216 pounds, 30 pounds more than either of the Mystics primary defenders on her. Sanders’ lanky frame has its advantages in the Mystics run-and-gun offense, but not what you see from a stereotypical center. Meesseman is a better matchup defensively, size-wise but she spots Cambage five inches. 

This is not an oddity though for Washington. There are a minute few in the WNBA that can walk alongside Cambage. As the third-tallest player in the league, only the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittany Griner (6-9) and the New York Liberty’s Han Xu (6-9) position higher.

Despite the clear physical dominance, Cambage is erratic at times. While she wears her emotions, those also tend to get her in trouble with her aggressive play and in dealing with officials. When frustrated, sometimes she struggles to even get a shot on rim.  

This is partly why Cambage’s play was highlighted so much in Game 3. The first two games of the series had Cambage as her own worst enemy. Visibly she was upset with some calls and non-calls by the officials. Timely fouls also limited her flow on the court. 

Neither was the case in Game 3. Fouls went her way. She even got away with a brash elbow to Meesseman’s face why trying to keep the lane clear. The non-call resulted in Mike Thibault losing his cool and getting a technical foul.

It’s also not the first time that Cambage has flailed an elbow to Meesseman. Game 2 saw her earn a technical foul for that same behavior. 

Either way, Cambage is a matchup nightmare against the Mystics. During the regular season, the Mystics – led by Sanders’ defense – kept Cambage to under 15 points in all three of their matchups. In three games in this series, the 28-year-old has 19, 23 and 28 points; progressively getting better in each game. 

Washington still holds a 2-1 lead and is a game away from returning to the WNBA Finals. However, they have to find an answer to slow down the tenacious Cambage. 

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

The Washington Mystics lost to the Las Vegas Aces 92-75 on Sunday evening in Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals. Here are five observations from the game.

1. There is an argument to be made that the two most talented teams remaining in the WNBA playoffs are facing each other in the Semifinals, that the toughest team the Mystics will see in the postseason are these Las Vegas Aces, even if they end up advancing. Sunday served a reminder of the Aces' top-end talent, as they punched back to avoid a sweep with a Game 3 win, ensuring these teams will play at least one more time.

The Mystics had three opportunities to clinch the series, now they have two. Their next chance will be Tuesday, again in Las Vegas. If Sunday's game was any indication, they will meet a raucous Aces crowd once again at Mandalay Bay.

2. To find where things went wrong for the Mystics, look no further than the second quarter where midway through they got their doors blown off leading into halftime. Washington was up 33-31 with 5:13 left in the second quarter when the Aces closed the frame on a 16-4 run. They outscored the Mystics 24-13 in the quarter overall.

It was ugly. The Mystics couldn't hit a shot and lost control on offense. They had eight turnovers in the quarter and many of them proved costly. They scored only four points in the final seven minutes of the half. Their 37 points at halftime tied a season-low.

The trouble continued in the third, as the Mystics were outdone 32-25. But the momentum shifted in that second quarter and Washington never got it back. After scoring 102 points in Game 2, they topped out at 75 in this one.

3. The Mystics had no answer for the Aces' dynamic duo of Liz Cambage and A'ja Wilson. Cambage put up 28 points with six rebounds, two steals and a block. She shot an impeccable 12-for-15 from the field.

It was the type of performance where if you only saw this game, you would think she was the most dominant player in the WNBA. At 6-foot-9, all the Aces had to do on some plays was throw the ball up the air where only she could get it.

Wilson was a force on both ends of the floor. She had 21 points, eight boards, two blocks and two steals. She made five of her first six shots and finished 8-for-14 overall.

The first quarter saw Cambage, Wilson and Kayla McBride score all of the Aces' points. They went to work thanks to point guard Kelsey Plum's ability to penetrate and set up open shots. Plum had nine points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

Speaking of Plum, people were mad online this week about an NBA writer saying she is the 'James Harden of the WNBA.' Many thought the comparison was unnecessary and also simplistic because they are left-handed guards.

Set aside the outrage and it is simply just a bad take. Harden is known for playing patiently, if slowly, while Plum is the fastest player on the court.

4. The star of this series before Sunday was undoubtedly Emma Meesseman, who was able to score even more points in Game 1 than she did in Game 2, even though she had been moved up the scouting report. In Game 3, she finally went cold, managing only six points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field and 0-for-2 from three.

Though Meesseman had eight points, three assists and two steals, she missed a series of open shots and also didn't have a great game defensively. There were several breakdowns that allowed Cambage open paths to the rim and on a few occasions Meesseman was to blame. 

Meesseman is an X-factor for the Mystics and so far the game results have matched her individual production. When she plays well, it changes everything.

LaToya Sanders, who had 17 points in Game 2, also struggled. She had only four points in 24 minutes. That wouldn't have been a problem if she wasn't taking shots, but she went 2-for-9 from the field as the Aces left her open on several occasions. 

They bet on the fact Sanders isn't usually an offensive threat, especially from the outside, and this time it worked out for them. It would be understandable if Sanders had some extra confidence after what she did in Game 2, but Game 3 was a reminder that her best role is as a defensive specialist.

Meesseman and Sanders' shooting woes contributing to an overall bad night for the Mystics. They shot 38.6 percent collectively. That's not what you expect from the most efficient scoring team in WNBA history.

5. The eight turnovers in the second quarter were an extreme, but giveaways proved a major difference. They had 13 total in this game, far more than the six they had in each of the first two games this series.

The Mystics are the best team in the WNBA at protecting the ball. And so far this series, the Aces have proven quite dangerous in transition when they can push the pace off of missed baskets or miscues. 

Washington will have to clean that up moving forward, especially Ariel Atkins, who had five all by herself. Also, Natasha Cloud had zero turnovers with 14 assists through the first two games, but had three giveaways in this one alone.

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