Playing without DeMarre Carroll and Gustavo Ayon (two of their starters for much of the recent past), the Atlanta Hawks could have easily rolled over on the heels of a 20-point first half deficit to a determined Washington Wizards team. However, there was no "give up" in the Hawks for the second straight night, as Atlanta cut that daunting lead down to just 1 by pecking away slowly throughout the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
Then, the momentum shifted back in the wrong direction over a period of just over 9 seconds.
"I think it's a very fine margin of error for every team in the NBA. I think we had it down to 2 at the end of the 3rd quarter. Martell Webster hit a tough shot in the corner. Then we let our guard down a little bit and they made a shot from three-quarter court. It went from a 2-point game to an 8-point game. That was a tough 15-second or 10-second stretch after what our guys had done from halfway through the 1st quarter into the second quarter, and particularly in the third quarter" ..... "We had it down to a 2-point margin and they hit two threes on us. That was just a tough stretch that we weren't able to recover from."
The above quote comes from the opening address of Mike Budenholzer's post-game press conference, and anyone in the building on Wednesday night would echo his sentiments. When Martell Webster knocked down a three-pointer to give the Wizards a 5-point lead with 9 seconds left in the 3rd quarter, it was an unfortunate event, but not one that sucked the life out of the Hawks. When Trevor Ariza swished home a 57-footer at the buzzer, however, things non-coincidentally went south in a hurry.
The Hawks gamely kept the deficit manageable for more than 5 minutes after the 6-point onslaught, but over the final 8 minutes, they were outscored 18-6 and exhibited all of the tell-tale signs of an exhausted basketball team. As always, Coach Budenholzer was responsible with his playing time decisions, but with the short-handed nature of the front court and the "interesting" lineup combinations he was forced into, it couldn't have been easy for virtually any member of the Atlanta rotation.
Elton Brand played a season-high 35 minutes at the center position, and he responded with his best statistical game in a Hawks uniform. "EB" scored a season-high 20 points (which he had by the middle stages of the 3rd quarter) and added 11 rebounds with top-flight defense, but even the veteran big man showed signs of slowing down in a scoreless 4th quarter. The same went for All-Star forward Paul Millsap, who joined Brand with a 20-10 game (21 points, 11 rebounds) but scored only 4 points in the final frame despite playing more than 8 minutes before the final white flag was submitted.
Perhaps the largest takeaway (aside from the longest losing streak in more than 6 years) occurred with less than 4 minutes left and the game out of reach at 109-93. Point guard Jeff Teague (who played extremely well for the final 3 quarters) rolled his ankle on the lower leg of a Washington player and, as a result, limped to the locker room with some help from Wally Blase. The Hawks can ill afford another long-term injury, but even if this is just a short-term and/or minor ailment from Teague, the current roster would be in big trouble and searching for options before Friday night's game in Detroit.
On a night where, as always, people will focus on the offensive numbers, the Atlanta defense was the main culprit in the loss. Washington converted 13 of 24 three-point attempts (54.2%) in the game and shot 51.7% from the floor as a team. It is a bit on the comical side to see the Hawks scoring more points in the paint than the Wizards (44-to-42) given the size disparity, but instead of "allowing" Washington get the ball inside, the Hawks were drilled repeatedly by overcompensation for their misgivings, and the Wizards were able to take advantage of wide-open opportunities on the perimeter.
A lot will be made of the Hawks falling into yet another large deficit in the first half (31-14 after the 1st quarter and a 50-30 deficit with 5:41 left in the 2nd quarter) and giving up a big-time run at the conclusion of the game. There is certainly an argument for the large spurts of inconsistency being an issue for this team, but this wasn't the night to voice that concern. Washington had lost 11 consecutive games in Philips Arena and Atlanta had famously lost 6 straight before tip-off, but in the end, this was an insanely undermanned team taking on one of the East's better teams, and Wednesday's edition of the Wizards is flat-out better than Wednesday's edition of the Hawks.