The atmosphere was tremendous in Philips Arena on Monday evening to the point that it was the liveliest crowd of the season in support of the Atlanta Hawks. While that was not singularly responsible for the victory, it certainly didn’t hurt and the Hawks put together a strong effort in evening the series against the Washington Wizards with a 111-101 victory.
At the outset, the two teams got off to a back and forth start. Washington began the evening making the open shots that they had missed in the first two games and, accordingly, the visitors zoomed to a 15-2 run to take a 27-18 lead with four minutes remaining in the first quarter. While Atlanta’s offense awakened, it came without Dennis Schröder on the floor, as he picked up a third foul with 2:28 left in the quarter.
Fortunately, that road block did not impede the Hawks, as Jose Calderon came to the rescue. The veteran point guard produced eight points and four assists in the first half while playing 13 minutes and, while his defense was a bit shaky, it was a fantastic effort in stepping up under interesting circumstances.
With that as the backdrop, the Hawks used a 10-0 run to take a 41-38 lead and held the Wizards to just three points within the first six minutes of the second half. That advantage continued to grow as well, with the Hawks building a 59-50 lead at halftime on the strength of a scorching offense (115.8 offensive rating) and stellar defense in the second period.
Dwight Howard (14 points, 11 rebounds) joined Calderon and Kent Bazemore (10 points, five assists) with stellar offensive performances, and Howard’s activity was strong at both ends. The entire package placed Atlanta in a strong position to hold serve with 24 minutes to play but, of course, there was still quite a bit of work to be done.
To kick off the third quarter, the Hawks took their largest lead of the night at 61-51 but that was short lived. Washington rattled off a 9-0 blitz in response and Atlanta scored just two points in the first four-plus minutes of the third quarter. While the Hawks would respond to stop the bleeding, the damage was largely done, as the Wizards tied the game up at 77-77 at the end of the third quarter while Atlanta scored only 18 points in the frame.
The final period started in more encouraging fashion, with threes from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kent Bazemore igniting an 8-0 run to take an 89-81 lead. From there, the Wizards immediately responded (non-coincidentally as John Wall and Bradley Beal checked back in) with a 7-0 run of their own, but the Hawks maintained the lead thanks to more heroics from Calderon and strong overall play.
There was more to come, as well, with the home team building a 10-point advantage after a Dennis Schröder three-pointer with 4:27 to play. That sent things into a timeout but, after the break, the Wizards almost instantly slashed the margin to just five. However, Schröder scored on the ensuing trip to provide some cushion and, after a stop, the Hawks had the ball with 2:22 to play when Budenholzer called for timeout.
Coming out of the break, Schröder lofted an ill-advised three that clanged off the rim. Fortunately, John Wall returned the favor with a miss in transition and, hilariously, Schröder then connected on a top-of-the-key three that hit everything possible before falling through the rim. That shot acted as the dagger in providing a 10-point cushion and the game was never in doubt from that point forward.
The Hawks were led by a balanced attack in this game, with seven players scoring in double-figures. Dwight Howard had (easily) his best game of the series with 16 points and 15 rebounds in 31 minutes, while Paul Millsap was Atlanta’s best player with 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Dennis Schröder (18 points), Kent Bazemore (16 points, seven assists) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (15 points) also produced well, with Jose Calderon (10 points, five assists) operating as the shock value in the best possible way.
The Hawks and Wizards will do battle once again on Wednesday evening in the nation’s capital and, for the first time since before Game 1, Atlanta is on a level playing field. Stay tuned.