The Atlanta Hawks may benefit from John Wall's fractured hand and wrist. That benefit might take them to the Eastern Conference finals. Doing so against a Wall-less Wizards squad, that's not how Mike Budenholzer wanted it.
“You feel bad for John Wall," the Hawks coach said. "He’s such a great player. One of the young, emerging superstars in our league. He’s a great kid. You don’t want that to happen to anybody. You want to compete and play against the best and have it determined that way."
The Hawks won't know for sure until an hour before tipoff whether the All-Star point guard suits up Saturday's Game 3 at the Verizon Center. Wall was a surprise late scratch before Game 2 in Atlanta. The Wizards announced Thursday that he suffered five non-displaced fractures in left hand and wrist.
The only surprise this time would be if he takes the court. Regardless, the next best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinal series rolls on. Atlanta spent Friday morning prepping at George Washington's Smith Center.
"Injuries are part of the playoffs, part of the NBA season," Budenholzer continued. "We’ll be more focused on us than who or who doesn’t play."
Wall and Atlanta's Jeff Teague were All-Star teammates this year and dueled in Game 1.
“I’m never happy when anybody gets hurt," Teague said. "He’s a good friend of mine. He’s a competitor."
Hawks forward Kyle Korver recalled a similar scenario for one of his team's earlier in his career.
"To be where he’s at and to have the year he’s had, obviously you feel bad for him," Korver said. "At the same time, we’re trying to win.
"I was on the Bulls team when Derrick Rose tore his ACL. We were all bummed, but you know what, you still have to play. We got beat four games in a row and I’m not saying that’s going to happen here. We have a lot of respect for them and still think it’s going to be a tough series.”
There were 41 pre-game media sessions with visiting coaches before 41 Wizards home games during the regular season. If asked directly about the key to defeating the Wizards, without fail that visiting coach would state slowing down John Wall, particularly in the fast break.
So if there is no Wall, what becomes the primary focus for the Hawks defensively? Budenholzer came up with a laundry list of options.
"Game 2 they still hurt us in transition. They still hurt us with 3's," the coach said. "(Paul) Pierce is playing really well. (Drew) Gooden is giving them a boost off the bench. Bradley Beal is obviously a great scorer. Nene in the post, Gortat in the paint. It’s more than just John Wall even when John Wall is healthy."
Teague showed more tunnel vision with his response.
“Always our main focus -- we knew John Wall is a really good player, but we wanted to try and limit Nene and Gortat rolls to the basket. When they’re playing really well, they’re team is really tough to beat," he said.
Nene has been a complete non-factor through two games, missing all nine of his field goal attempts. Gortat is making shots (10 of 19), but in Game 2 he settled for opportunities 5-10 feet away from the basket rather than rolling toward the basket, Part of that is not having Wall as his pick-and-roll partner. Regardless, less attacking the rim and quality defense by Atlanta has led to two free throws in two games for Gortat.
Stat of the Day
Wall is a blur with the basketball, able to go the full 94-feet in a blink of an eye. Washington is able to generate fast break points or quickly get into its offense thanks to Wall's push. Without him in Game 2 the offense slowed notably. This stat from NBA.com shows the percentage of field goal attempts in each of the first two games the Wizards took in the first nine seconds of the shot clock and the last seven seconds.
Game 1 Game 2
First 9 seconds 35.2 28.1
Final 7 seconds 19.8 26.8