Things happened in the Washington Wizards' 82-81 Game 5 loss to the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night. Some good, but ultimately, no. The Hawks now lead 3-2 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series. Some initial thoughts on some of those things and a look at what we'll be talking about heading into Game 6.
Hawks' Al Horford and Kyle Korver work a pick on the left wing. Nene initially steps toward the corner and Korver on the switch, but turns immediately inside with Dennis Schroder attacking the basket. Beal, with his back to the play, instinctively moves back toward Korver, the man he's been glued to all series. That scenario left Horford free to roam. Nene cleared out Paul Millsap for rebounding position under the basket. He waits on the floor for the rebound, but apparently is unaware that Horford is racing toward the rim. Unchallenged, the Hawks big man does jump, yanks the carom from the pack, settles and scores. Maybe a half-second box out by Beal or a Nene leap keeps Horford away. Maybe.
Clutch knows clutch
Paul Pierce didn't have a dynamic game from start to finish, but once again the "Truth" showed up in the end, burying the go-ahead 3-pointer from the left corner with 8.3 seconds left. Horford then countered with the game-winning layup. Appropriate these two made the final baskets.
Al Horford (61%) & Paul Pierce (52%) are 1st and 2nd, respectively, in highest clutch time FG pct over last 5 postseasons (min. 20 FGA).
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 14, 2015
Dennis Schroder has been something of a Wizards killer all season, including Games 3 and 4 of this series. After a slow start in the first half, the guard with speed and no fear began finding a groove in the third quarter. In the fourth, Schroder's consecutive baskets capped Atlanta's 15-3 run for a 78-73 lead with 2:29 left. Even though he missed his final layup attempt, his aggressive drive sucked in the defense and allowed Horford room for the putback.
Marcin Gortat and Nene split minutes in the fourth quarter, but it was the big Brazilian on the court for the final play. Wittman went for the better defender on the perimeter in case of switches (which happened) rather than the better rim protector and rebounder. Before lashing out at Nene for Horford's final basket or Wittman for the decision, worth noting Gortat had the worst defensive rating (90.9 points per 100 possessions) on the team. Also note Gortat was 7 of 10 from the field, but it was Nene (4 for 11) wildly missing a short layup attempt with 95 seconds left and Wizards down two.
Atlanta used Schroder and starter Jeff Teague together for chunks of Game 4. In Game, 5, Schroder played 10 minutes in the fourth quarter -- almost double the amount of Teague, who had a season-high seven turnovers. That's an interesting and ultimately successful decision by coach Mike Budenholzer to sit his All-Star guard. [Update - Per Budenholzer to reporters, Teague said," leave (Dennis) in" because Schroder was making plays.]
No backup plan
Wizards coach Randy Wittman basically used six players, meaning the starters and Otto Porter. Drew Gooden (0 for 4 field goals) and Ramon Sessions played less than 12 minutes combined in the second half. Gooden played a scoreless 12 minutes, his fewest amount of time in the playoffs. While his stretch-4 skill set make him a good rotation fit in this series, he appears gassed (1-10 combined last two games from the field). The Wizards are playing for their playoff lives Friday. There might not be enough time to fill up Gooden's tank. Meanwhile, Kevin Seraphin and Kris Humphries are rested.
Horford finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. He doesn't receive national attention, but there might not be a more valuable player for their team. If you need proof, look at the difference in the Hawks last season when Horford missed most of the season with an injury and this season. Reminder: Atlanta won the East with ease.
No doubt my colleague J. Michael will write chapter and verse about John Wall over the next 48 hours, but couldn't go without mentioning his performance. Still hard to believe that Wall played in Game 5. Everyone knows the deal. Five fractures in his left hand and wrist. Supposedly he didn't start dribbling with his injured mitt until Tuesday. Sat out the previous three games. Yet Wall courageously ran the break, hit floaters, blocked shots, dove on the court for loose balls and handled the ball 107 times according to NBA.com.
This wasn't breakneck speed Wall. This was geometry Wall. Whether going for a layup or trying to prevent one, he maneuvered his body into position while trying to protect his hand rather than his usual approach of bypassing caution.
Wall did commit five of his six turnovers and miss seven of nine shots in the second half. Defensively he looked to avoid contact, often choosing a path for blocked shots instead of blocking drivers with this body. Schroder's final drive went hard toward Wall. The Wizards' star did swat the layup attempt with his right hand, but allowed Schroder to penetrate all the way to the rim, which set off the chain of events. Incredibly gutsy effort regardless. The heroic effort won't be forgotten anytime soon, but it would have taken on mythic levels with a win.
MORE WIZARDS: Pierce's mouth outruns game clock in Game 5 loss