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Takeaways from Wizards' win over Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of NBA Playoffs

Takeaways from Wizards' win over Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of NBA Playoffs

Before Markieff Morris could walk off the floor after knocking down three foul shots after being run over by Paul Millsap on an attempt, he had some words for him face-to-face and almost nose-to-nose.

Morris (21 points, seven rebounds, four blocks)  came out with the same fire to start the second half, leading the Wizards back by scoring 11 of his points in the third en route to a 114-107 victory in Game 1 of the first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks at Verizon Center.

Morris did it on both ends as Millsap (19 points) was held relatively in check after he had 12 points by halftime.

Just as Morris inspired with his fiery antics, John Wall (game-high 32 points, 14 assists) put his foot on the pedal. He shot 6 of 9 in a 38-point third.

Bradley Beal (22 points), Marcin Gortat (14 points, 10 rebounds), Otto Porter (10 points, nine rebounds) and Kelly Oubre (11 points, two steals) did the rest of the work.

The Hawks were led by Dennis Schroder (25 points, nine assists) but didn’t get much help offensively beyond Taurean Prince (14 points), Millsap and Kent Bazemore (12 points). Dwight Howard (seven points, 14 rebounds) got extra possessions but shot just 2-for-6.

Tim Hardaway (seven points, seven rebounds) only shot 2-for-11, including 0-for-6 from three. The Hawks were just 7-for-25 from three, or 28%. 

[RELATED: Most important areas and matchups in Wizards-Hawks series]

Game 2 Wednesday at Verizon Center which sold out Sunday (20,356). Prince's three got Atlanta to 108-103 in the final two minutes.

--The moment Brandon Jennings entered, the lane opened. Schroder made a straight-line drive for the and-1 to cut the deficit to 23-15. The defense is unprepared for the floodgates to open so soon and aren’t in position to help. Schroder got around Jennings again which required Wall’s help and the ball movement led to Ersan Ilyasova’s bucket. The Hawks were able to erase an 11-point deficit and take a 29-25 lead going into the second quarter. When the fourth began, however, Jennings was able to get them out in transition for easy baskets. But just before that to end the third, he made an extra pass to Wall for a three that blew the doors open 79-65.--Continuing a recent trend, Oubre is jumping passing lanes and getting deflections and steals. That’s a good thing. But he had a golden opportunity and backrimmed a dunk. It happened to him in the second-to-last regular season game with Detroit as well. But when the second began, Oubre did it again by jumping the lane to Hardaway and got the transition dunk. He settled down after starting 1-for-5 and made an open three in the fourth and a pocket jumper to get into double figures.

--With no Ian Mahinmi (calf strain), Jason Smith played the spread five which is something that the Wizards did do often during the regular season. When Morris was on the floor with Smith, he played the spread five which forced Howard to cover him at a distance. When Morris overdribbled and didn’t make up his mind, Jose Calderon came with the quickly double-team and created a turnover. Morris was better off giving up the ball, spacing to the arc and getting it back. Howard then has to make a decision to come out farther or give up the open 3. He gave up the open look and Morris knocked it down. On Oubre’s three for a 95-83 lead, Morris isolated on Ilyasova which forced the help, he reversed the ball when he was doubled to Jennings in the corner and it produced an open shot. The Hawks know they can’t cover Morris with Ilyasova one-on-one so it’s help or allow a high-percentage look and hope for a miss.

[RELATED: Double take: Two Markieff Morrises at the Wizards game?]

--Gortat was physical off the ball and even when Howard had the ball in the high post like Mahinmi often is. He didn’t play soft and allow Howard to make a decision with the ball and that helped created a tone in which the Wizards were physical everywhere. The Wizards lost the overall rebound battle 48-42.

--True to his words, Morris was “turnt up” for his first playoff game. He blocked Millsap and then Howard when he got the rebound in the waning minutes of the second quarter. He then drew a foul on at three-point attempt and went the line to get the deficit down to three. Morris also hit the floor to force a jump ball with Millsap and won the tap to Porter. Morris got the better of Millsap in the season series and that continued Sunday.

-- Beal wasn’t missing because the Hawks were doing anything special to take him away. He had wide-open, second-chance shots that were short. He got a switch on Ilyasova late in the second, easily lost him on the stepback move and came up woefully short on the three. Beal was just 3-for-10 overall in the first 24 minutes, including 1 of 6 on threes. The Wizards were 17 of 51 at halftime and trailed 48-45. They were fortunate. Beal focused more on getting easier buckets from two-point range and in transition. He only shot 9-for-21 when it was over and 2-for-11 from three.

--The Hawks did a better job of attacking in the half-court. The evidence was in the foul shots. They were 19 of 22 in the first half compared to 9-for-9 by Washington.  Millsap when at Morris and drew the first foul on him 17 seconds into the game but he avoided foul trouble. The Wizards were attacking the rim but they weren’t going at Howard to force him to take a risk defending. Instead, Wall was double-clutching trying to finesse the ball to the rim. Whistles are less likely in those situations. But he foul shot disparity was still vast. The Hawks had a 39-17 edge in attempts.

--Smith stayed down in the final seconds of the third quarter after Bazemore fell down trying to stop the Wizards from getting the final shot. Much like Kevin Durant when he hyperextended his knee here earlier this season when Zaza Pachulia fell, Bazemore went down as Smith was trying to set a screen for Beal. He bounced off his knee. Smith was able to leave the floor on under his own power.  Smith didn’t return was still on the bench. Morris and Gortat played the five spot in the fourth. 

[RELATED: VIDEO: Morris blocks two Hawks players back-to-back]

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The same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

USA Today

The same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

Ladies and gentlemen, it doesn't get much better than this. 

The same night the Mystics clinched a playoff spot with an 86-79 win over the Minnesota Lynx, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own.

With 8:25 left in the first quarter, Cloud hit an open Elena Della Donne who finished strongly at the basket. With the pass, Cloud became the franchise's all-time leader in assists. 

Drafted by the Mystics back in 2015, Cloud has been integral to the team's rise to the top of the standings. She's averaging a career-high 5.4 assists and 8.8 points while leading the team in minutes at 32.3 per game. 

Needless to say, her teammates were excited for her. 

Hopefully, this magical season will finish with a championship, redeeming the Mystics of their 2018 Finals loss. 



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As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

Monumental Basketball, the new vertical that encompasses the NBA's Wizards, the Capital City Go-Go of the G-League, the Mystics of the WNBA and District Gaming of the NBA 2K League, is designed to help all of the respective teams owned and operated by Ted Leonsis and his partners. The Mystics, though, don't need nearly as much assistance as the others.

Sitting atop the WNBA with a league-best 18-7 record, the Mystics look well on their way to another deep playoff run. Last year, it ended in a loss in the WNBA Finals. This year, they have an even better roster capable of winning it all.

On Wednesday, the Mystics routed the Seattle Storm, last year's champions, by 29 points. They did so despite missing All-Star point guard Kristi Tolliver and with their best player, Elena Delle Donne, scoring 14 points. They might be the deepest team in the WNBA with a bench that is starting lineup-caliber.

The Mystics have already arrived, but it took some time to get here. When head coach and general manager Mike Thibault took over in 2013, they had won 11 total games the previous two years. Five years later, they were title contenders.

Leonsis wants to see the same upward trajectory for his other teams. Thibault believes the new program can help everyone get on track.

"The overall structure can be so good when you are inclusive and you have services that are available to everybody," Thibault told NBC Sports Washington. 

"I think that one of the things that I learned in trying to rebuild the Mystics is that you need a lot of hands to make it work. I go back to the days where you had a head coach and one or two assistants. The game has changed so much. If you can make a player coming in, whether it’s to the Mystics or the Wizards, feel like they are a part of something bigger."

Thibault, 68, knows what good organizations look like, as he has been a part of many over the years. He was a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s during their dynasty. He later worked for the Chicago Bulls and oversaw the scouting department when they drafted Michael Jordan. It wasn't until the 2000s that he joined the WNBA ranks, first with a successful run as coach of the Connecticut Sun before coming to Washington.

Thibault believes the player services arm of Monumental Basketball will be particularly helpful.

"Let’s say you’re traded to the Wizards. You’re coming from a different city and it’s a new environment. Your family has to move and you have kids. That’s a whole thing in and of itself," he explained.

"What can we do for their post-career ability? Do they want to be a coach? Do they want to go into broadcasting, or business? There are so many things you can do to enhance how comfortable a player and a family is coming to an organization. It’s something that just makes you special as an organization."

Thibault says some of benefits Monumental Basketball will provide have already been utilized by the Mystics, including mental health professionals and nutritionists. What can help the Mystics in particular is more synergy with the Wizards.

This is the first season the Mystics are playing at the new arena at St. Elizabeth's in Southeast Washington. They now share a practice facility and office space with the Wizards. Thibault believes there are positives to feeling part of a larger operation.

"I think our players already sense that," he said. "You see Wizards players, you see Tommy Sheppard and others at our games. That makes you feel like you’re a part of a bigger thing. We have a dining room where all of the players can socialize in both of the organizations."

When the creation of Monumental Basketball was announced, Leonsis noted Thibault will have a certain level of autonomy in what he does. Some of the executives hired by the organization like John Thompson III, who will help with player wellness, and Dr. Daniel Medina, who will assist in training and health, will provide services to the Mystics. But Thibault will pick the players and set the vision for basketball operations.

Thibault, though, knows Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard well and thinks the team is in good hands.

"He’s got ideas. He’s very forward thinking. I think he’s a great judge of personnel and character. I think he’s very thorough in what he does," Thibault said. 

"I think that when you’re trying to build an organization, there are process you have to go through and steps you have to take to be good. I think he knows you have to have patience to do that. I think if fans give him the chance to do what he’s great at, they will see the results over time. It might take time, but he will get them there."