The Hawks are very much in this game at this point trailing by just three points with less than 1:30 to play in regulation. The Wizards go to their bread and butter on this play with the high screen action involving Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat. Paul Millsap does an excellent job denying Gortat the space that he wants to set the pick and the result is that Kent Bazemore has pretty optimal space to try to stay in front of Beal. However, the skilled Beal is able to use just the threat of the screen to navigate his way to the rim. Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala demonstrate excellent communication on the weak side and the result is that Muscala is freed up to provide help at the rim and is able to contest Beal’s shot, which comes up short and is rebounded by Millsap.
The Hawks were pretty fortunate here in that John Wall and Markieff Morris completely mess up on the timing of their action on the weak side. Many coaches like to see some rotation when there are two players on the weak side as opposed to just spotting up. But when Beal breaks into the paint one of either Wall or Morris has to be established in the corner to provide an opportunity to punish the help at the rim from Muscala with a potential open corner three-point shot.
This play has gotten plenty of deserved attention, so there is not a lot to break down here that has not already been covered. What I will add is that one of Bazemore’s biggest mistakes was in not realizing (or not being patient enough to realize) that the Wizards are not matched up the way they would prefer to be as a result of having to transition after the missed shot. Beal is on Schroder instead of Wall and the Hawks would have been much more likely to successfully attack Beal in the pick and roll if Bazemore would have allowed for that opportunity. Wall, the seven-year veteran, is significantly more skilled at using his size and length in the defensive half court as compared to Beal.
The urgency for the Hawks to score on this possession should have dictated that the ball moving to Schroder and then the floor gets spaced for the 1-4 pick and roll action with Millsap. After Wall pokes the ball from Bazemore, Otto Porter makes this outlet pass look a lot easier than it actually is and the result is a five-point lead for the Wizards with 1:05 to play.
After a timeout, the Hawks run floppy-like action for Tim Hardaway Jr. The play calls for staggered screens from Muscala and Millsap to free up Hardaway as he comes off the second screen. Both Muscala and Millsap set excellent screens and Wall is completely separated from Hardaway. Gortat switches on to THJ and gets good help from Beal with a solid dig. Without Beal’s dig, Hardaway is easily quick enough to dribble right past Gortat which would have resulted in him attacking the rim (where he shot a solid 64.7% on the season) and forcing Morris to commit to him which would have freed up Muscala for an easy score. This is excellent team defensive execution by the Wizards.
The Hawks absolutely have to have a stop on the subsequent possession to stay in this game.
The Wizards decide to play on without a timeout here; one of their priorities is to bleed the clock. But it is also clear that Wizards head coach Scott Brooks drew this play up during the previous timeout called by the Hawks. They run a play that is not a part of their normal action apart from ATO (after timeout) situations.
After milking the shot clock down to under 10 seconds, the Wizards leverage dummy 1-4 high screen action to set up an off-ball screen by Gortat to free up Beal for an open look at the three-point break, which he makes securing the victory for the Wizards. The Hawks completely bit in the dummy action; their should have been some suspicion here in that Morris was moving toward the high screen spot instead of Gortat. And the complete lack of communication between Bazemore and Muscala make it clear they were not anticipating this. Better recognition of this action and effective communication on this play would have likely resulted in a more timely close out and stronger contest by Muscala on Beal’s shot.
Excellent play design and execution on the part of the Wizards here. Note: this is one of those plays that a coach can probably only use one time in the entire playoffs, even in subsequent series. But Brooks picked an excellent time to deploy this one to take a commanding 2-0 lead in this series.
The primary takeaway I offer here is that it is probably not useful to place the blame for this loss on any one player for any specific mistake, etc. Nor is it useful in my opinion to complain too much about Coach Budenholzer’s rotations (which are frustrating me a little even). You can see here that the Wizards as a team are just simply out-executing the Hawks on these key possessions. I hope Atlanta can rebound to offer some resistance in this series. But these plays offer clear examples as to which is the better team in this match-up.