It was a familiar tale for the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday afternoon. The starting five was fantastic, the bench was largely woeful, and the Hawks blew a double-digit lead on the way to a 104-98 defeat and a 1-0 series hole at the hands of the Washington Wizards.
Picking up where they left off in Brooklyn, the Hawks had a fantastic first quarter on Sunday afternoon. Though Paul Pierce, who scored the first seven points for the Wizards, threatened to derail things, Atlanta was firing on all cylinders offensively in the early going. A 9-0 run by the home team pushed the early lead to 16-9, and DeMarre Carroll was once again unconscious, scoring 10 points in the first six minutes.
The Wizards would (rapidly) close the gap, putting together an 8-0 run over 70 seconds to tie the game at 20-20, but that was the last time they would threaten the lead in the first half. Atlanta suffered a bit of a scare when Jeff Teague exited with an ankle injury at the 4:10 mark, but he quickly returned, and the Hawks went on a 13-2 run following a timeout that gave them an 11-point advantage.
From there, the Hawks kept that 11-point cushion through the end of the period, and they shot 64% from the field and 63% from three in the opening quarter. On a helpful note, that included a +11 stint from the much-maligned Dennis Schröder in the quarter, and Paul Millsap added a 5-point, 4-rebound, 5-assist period in his own right to begin triple-double watch.
As is custom in recent days, however, the goodwill built in the first quarter didn't fully translate to the second. Atlanta scored just four points in nearly six minutes to begin the period, but fortunately, the Wizards didn't take full advantage during that time period. After a timeout, Kyle Korver broke that drought with his first three of the night, and the Hawks increased the lead back to double-figures with a 63-53 advantage at the halftime break.
DeMarre Carroll was the story of the first half, scoring 21 points and knocking down five threes. Carroll's 21-point output doubled as the most prolific half by any Hawk this season, and that outburst (7-9 FG, 5-7 3-PT) helped to allow the team to shoot 52% from the floor and 53% from three in the half.
The third quarter was an offensive challenge for Atlanta. The Hawks scored only 20 points in the quarter, but it felt as if they were lucky to generate that many, given that the team made only 8 of 24 shot attempts. Offensive rebounding played a key part in keeping a slim, 2-point lead after three quarters, but there was a stretch in which Atlanta missed seven straight shots, and it was tough to watch at times.
Comically, the woeful shooting continued into the second half, as the home team missed its first six shots, extending the drought to 8 of 30 in the half. That allowed the Wizards to snatch a six-point lead with fewer than eight minutes remaining, and the building was uneasy. From there, though, Kyle Korver connected on a three and Al Horford (leading the break) found Jeff Teague to slash the lead to one at 91-90.
The goodwill built up during that stretch wouldn't hold up, though, as the Wizards built their lead to 7 points with less than three minutes left. Atlanta simply couldn't convert shots, including a possession where they missed five shots, but Paul Millsap brought the Hawks back with five straight points to come within two at 98-96 with 1:21 remaining.
That was the closest Atlanta would come to a comeback, however, as inept execution plagued the team throughout the stretch run. John Wall found Otto Porter for a wide open lay-up to extend the lead to four, and the Hawks didn't get a reasonable shot on the other end, leading to an inexplicable decision not to foul and the Wizards getting (another) lay-up to go up by a 102-96 margin with 14.6 seconds remaining. That was the end of the serious threat, and the final score reflected a six-point defeat.
There were plenty of strong individual performances, but even a strong performance from the starting five itself (they outscored Washington by double-digits when playing together) wasn't enough. DeMarre Carroll finished with just 24 points after his 21-point first half, and heroic efforts from Paul Millsap (15 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists) and Al Horford (17 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists) fell flat thanks to another struggle from selected teammates.
The Atlanta Hawks are now in a hole and without homecourt advantage for the first time in the 2015 NBA Playoffs. Let's see how they respond.