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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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Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

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Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

The two main, overarching reasons why the Toronto Raptors have remained as good as they are even after losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency are their defense and their three-point shooting. The continued development of Pascal Siakam into a budding star has received most of the acclaim, but as a collective, those two areas are what make the Raptors tick.

Toronto is second in the NBA in defensive rating (104.5) and fifth in points allowed (105.6). They also give up the second-lowest field goal percentage (42.6) in the league.

The three-point line, though, is where the focus should be on Friday night as the Wizards battle the Raptors in Toronto (7 pm on NBC Sports Washington) for the second time this season. Because in the Wizards, the Raptors will aim to take advantage of a team that struggles defending the perimeter. Washington is 23rd among NBA teams in opponent three-point percentage (36.5) and 19th in threes allowed (12.1). 

The Wizards will have their hands full with a multitude of Raptors shooters. Siakam knocks down 39.1 percent of his threes on 6.2 attempts per game. Norman Powell is a 40.8 percent three-point shooter, averaging 4.9 attempts.

OG Anunoby shoots 38.1 percent on 3.8 attempts per game. Kyle Lowry attempts 8.9 threes per game and makes 35.3 percent. Fred VanVleet hits 37.2 percent on 6.9 attempts. VanVleet, though, is questionable for the game with a hamstring injury.

Those are five players who are dangerous from three and that's not the end of the list. They also have Marc Gasol making 37 percent of his 3.3 attempts per game. Terence Davis shoots 38.6 percent and Serge Ibaka hits on 37.3 percent. There's also Matt Thomas, who has made 46.5 percent of his threes, albeit in a small sample size.

The Raptors can legitimately form a full rotation of players who make threes. It gives them options for multiple lineups where everyone on the floor can shoot.

The onus will be on the Wizards' guards like Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Bradley Beal and Jordan McRae, but also some of their bigs. Ian Mahinmi and Thomas Bryant may have to trail Gasol and Ibaka to the perimeter. Few teams can create space with matchup problems quite like Toronto can.

The first meeting between these teams resulted in a Wizards loss, back on Dec. 20. And in that game, the Wizards were able to hold Toronto under their season average in terms of attempts. They took 30 threes when they average 36 per game.

But the Raptors shot 40 percent on those attempts, going 12-for-30. They spread it around in that game, too, with seven different players making at least one.

Three-point defense is always important in today's NBA, but even more than usual against the Raptors. It isn't a strength for the Wizards, but they will have to overcome that to pull out a victory.

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Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

WASHINGTON -- When identifying leaders from an outside perspective, it is only natural to look at the Washington Wizards and see Bradley Beal and John Wall, their two All-Star guards. Logic would suggest they set the tone for younger, less experienced players, that they are the ones the rookies should look up to.

But Wizards head coach Scott Brooks sees similar value in less-heralded members of his team, the journeyman veterans to whom nothing has been given. Guys like Ish Smith and Gary Payton II have bounced around the league to varying degrees. In Payton's case, that has included extended time in the G-League.

Brooks has been tasked with creating an environment for the Wizards that is conducive to the development of young players and he believes those types of veterans set an important example.

"If you're really good, you have two or three All-Stars on your team," Brooks said. "But the league is made up of guys like Ish. His story can help the younger guys make it and stay in the league. It's what the league is about. He has the grit, the fiber, the substance and the experience to share with all the players who are trying to make it."

Brooks has used similar language to describe Payton II, who was first signed by the team to a 10-day contract last season. He was let go, then returned this past December and then had his contract guaranteed for the rest of the season earlier this month.

"He's fought and he's been cut many times and sometimes those are the guys you want in your program because they have that fiber, that toughness and that anger because they know that it can go away," Brooks said.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has said on several occasions they want Brooks to install a culture and mindset with their young roster similar to the one he helped build in Oklahoma City. Smith happens to remind Brooks of one of his former players with the Thunder.

"I love guys on a team like Ish. We kind of had that guy with Nick Collison [in OKC], just a winning player on and off the court. Ish is the same way. I look at Ish the same exact way," Brooks said.

Collison averaged a modest 5.9 points in 14 NBA seasons, but was so respected for his leadership role that his jersey number was retired by the Thunder last year. 

There is another person guys like Smith and Payton II remind Brooks of and that is himself. Before he became a coach, he was a 10-year NBA player. And he carved out that career as an undrafted, undersized point guard.

He was constantly fighting for his NBA future on the fringe of rosters and was able to stick around only because of his hard work and toughness.

Though he played with some great teammates like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, Brooks likes to think he left his own mark.

"I always took pride in having a relationship with the best player to the, well, myself; the worst player," he said.

"This game, it's a family and it's fun and it's about relationships; empowering and inspiring one another. You don't have to be a star player to do that. I've had great conversations with Olajuwon. I've had great conversations with players that only play on a 10-day or a year in the league. I took pride in it and I think Ish does the same thing. I think it's pretty important that we all are blessed and honored to be in the league, that now it's your job to leave your situation better than when you started it. We have a couple of guys on our team that can really carry on what we want our team to be about."

Ultimately, though, the Wizards' young players have to put in the necessary work to reach their potential. Brooks can teach them lessons directly and guys like Smith can do so indirectly.

But the players themselves have to understand the message.

"Now it's up to the younger players to listen to it. It's one thing to listen to John and Brad, but there's a great chance you're not going to be as good as John or Brad. There's a chance you're going to be a player like Ish," Brooks said.

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