The Atlanta Hawks again started strong in Tuesday's Game 2 against the Washington Wizards, but this time around they had enough left in the tank to finish strong as well. Atlanta outscored the Wizards 26-15 over the final 12 minutes of the game in 106-90 win to pull even in the series at one game apiece.
Despite the margin of victory, Game 2 was anything but a blowout. There were but two lead changes in the game but Washington hung within striking distance for the duration and came all the way back to tie the game in the third quarter. That they were playing without injured point guard John Wall who missed the game due to a wrist injury has to give Washington some measure of confidence as they head home with a road split.
Still the Hawks have to be pleased as well to garner a split at home after watching Game 1 slip away thanks to a poor shooting second half. Atlanta knocked down 42 percent of their shot attempts in the second half of Game 2 but it was their defense that Mike Budenholzer was happiest about following the game.
"The way we started defensively, with a 20-point first quarter, and finishing with a 15-point defensive fourth quarter, if we can just get to where we're playing more of those 48 minutes with that kind of defensive intensity - those hands, the activity - that's what we're going for," said Budenholzer."
The offense was nothing to be ashamed of either. Atlanta again missed some open shots but came back in the second half to make 7-of-16 three-point attempts. They did much better job of attacking throughout getting to the free throw line 25 times where they converted 22. As is usually the case though, the Hawks' ball movement is the staple of their offense.
"The unselfishness - 30 assists on 37 field goals," said Budenholzer. "If we keep moving the ball, keep attacking, keep finding the open man, good things will happen. I thought our bench really helped us tonight. Several guys came in and played well. We have a lot to work on, but it's good to get a win."
For one of the few times so far in the postseason, the bench did come through for Atlanta. Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and Pero Antic combined for 27 points off the bench. Bazemore fought his way out of a deep shooting slump knocking down a pair of three-pointers. Their contributions was a much-needed lift for the Hawks.
"I think those were big," Budenholzer said when asked about the contributions of Bazemore and Antic in the second half. "I think it had become tied and Kent went back in and had a good look, and hit one. And then he hit another one. When Jeff got to the paint and found Pero in the corner for another one, those are big. For those guys to come in - they've been doing it for us all year. It really makes a big difference for our starting group to have those guys come in and make some big shots and make some big defensive plays too. Both of them were great on defense."
DeMarre Carroll continued his string of 20-point games finishing with a game-high of 22 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists. He was just 1-of-4 from the three-point line but found other ways to score.
"He just gets it within the context of how we play in our offense, and his teammates are creating a lot of opportunities for him," Budenholzer said of Carroll. He's taking advantage of them. He's driving and attacking more. Tonight, I think actually probably didn't finish as well as he has been the last month or two of the season. But I think he's just taking advantage of good looks and good opportunities and being aggressive and being confident, and we need more of that from him."
Paul Millsap had another rough shooting night going 6-for-16 from the field but got to the line six times and finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists. Al Horford was solid as well recording 18 points, six assists, three steals and a pair of blocks. Jeff Teague didn't shoot the ball well again but contributed in other ways finishing with nine points, eight assists, and seven rebounds.
Budenholzer faced some criticism after Game 1 in regards to the amount of time that his starters were on the floor together. The play of the bench helped his cause in Game 2, but he still leaned on the starters with Millsap, Carroll and Korver topping 38 minutes.
Atlanta put up a more consistent effort in Game 2 and their continuing to attack the paint and get to the free throw line was the difference in the game. Washington's effort overall shows that there is going to be nothing easy about this series. Ramon Sessions stepped up in the absence of Wall scoring 21 points but Bradley Beal made just 8-of-22 attempts, yet the Wizards were right there for most of the game.
Overall defensively, the Hawks were pretty good. Atlanta finished with a 44-40 rebounding edge and forced the Wizards into 16 turnovers. Washington shot the ball well from three and benefitted from several shots that banged around on the rim before falling. Still the Wizards went 12-of-22 from three-point range with Paul Pierce going 5-for-8. That is something the Hawks will need to tighten up before Game 3.
To wrap, the Hawks did what they absolutely had to do. They simply could not afford to lose both games at home and head to Washington in an 0-2 hole. The goal now is to steal a game on the road and take back home court advantage.