Live to fight another day.
The Atlanta Hawks needed to win on Saturday evening in order to preserve any level of hope in a first round series against the Washington Wizards. In short, they did just that, racing to a significant lead in the first half and preserving a double-digit margin to the end in a 116-98 Game 3 victory.
In a stark change from Games 1 and 2 in Washington, things went very well in the early going for the Hawks. Atlanta raced to a 19-4 lead in the opening minutes, making 8 of their first 10 shots while converting the first three attempts from beyond in the arc. At the same time, the Wizards were discombobulated to the tune of 2 of 12 shooting and that allowed the Hawks to take complete control.
In fact, the home team built the advantage to as many as 25 points at 38-13 and the Hawks led by 18 points at the end of the first quarter. That lead was built on the strength of a 146 offensive rating and 65 percent shooting from the field and Dennis Schröder led the way with 15 points.
John Wall did his best to keep Washington within striking distance, scoring 14 of the first 20 points for the visitors, but the Hawks managed to keep them at bay. A 9-0 run from the Wizards slashed the lead to 38-22 but the Hawks used six straight points down the stretch to extend the margin back to 22 before it settled at the halftime score of 64-46.
Over the first 24 minutes, Dennis Schröder (20 points) and Paul Millsap (15 points, 9 rebounds) keyed things for the Hawks and the defense was stellar with regard to non-Wall members of the Wizards. All told, Washington was held to only 40 percent shooting an offensive rating under 90, setting the stage for what was a comfortable working margin in a must-win spot.
In true “2016-2017 Atlanta Hawks” fashion, though, there was a threat of implosion. The Wizards quickly cut into the halftime lead, using a John Wall sledge hammer to climb within a 71-58 margin with 7:50 left in the third. From there (and after a timeout), order was restored, however, and the Hawks used a 12-2 run to reclaim a 23-point lead that ended up standing to the end of the third quarter.
Still, the Wizards weren’t done just yet, beginning the closing period on a 14-3 run that included back-to-back threes at the outset. Thankfully, that ended with haste, as the Hawks used a 9-0 run to reclaim a 21-point lead and that push effectively finished off a Game 3 victory.
Paul Millsap was, without question, the best player on the court for the Hawks on Saturday evening and that is par for the course. However, it was an even more stellar performance from Millsap than normal, as he finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds and four assists (in 33 minutes) to match John Wall’s explosive showing (29 points, seven assists in 31 minutes) on the Wizards side. In support of the All-Star power forward, Dennis Schröder finished with 27 points (on 10 of 22 shooting) and nine assists and Taurean Prince added 16 points on just ten field goal attempts.
With the win, the Hawks are back in business with a fighting chance in the series, though Monday’s Game 4 at home will be, effectively, another must-win for Atlanta. Stay tuned.