There is no margin for error now for the Atlanta Hawks who battled to the end but came up short in a 103-99 loss to the Washington Wizards in Game 5. The win gives Washington a 3-2 edge in the series and pushes Atlanta’s backs to the wall with their season hanging in the balance.
The home team has won every game in this series so far but Atlanta pushed them to the very end thanks to a sterling performance by Dennis Schroder who has put together a solid series. Schroder recorded a playoff career-high with 29 points and 11 assists. He was 10 of 18 from the field and 5 of 6 from three-point range and was credited with just one single turnover. He’s gone head to head in this series with Wall and held his own and has ensured that there will be at least one positive takeaway from this series regardless the end result for Atlanta.
In Games 3 & 4, the Hawks did a good job of holding down Washington’s supporting cast. John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 42 points in Game 5 but were also a combined 2 of 12 from three-point range. However, Otto Porter came to life with 17 points and a couple of made threes while Bojan Bogdanovic turned in 14 points off the bench.
Atlanta struggled as their shooting came crashing back to earth. The Hawks shot a respectable 41 percent for the game as a team but were just 9 of 31 from three-point range. Tim Hardaway Jr finished with 15 points but was just 6 of 18 from the field and 3 of 10 from beyond the arc. That is a lot of attempts for a guy who has struggled since the playoffs began.
Kent Bazemore turned in his best performance of the series in Atlanta’s Game 4 win but was a complete non-factor in 22 minutes off the bench in Game 5 finishing with six points while going 3 of 12 from the field and 0 for 5 from three-point range.
Ersan Ilyasova helped strengthen the Hawks bench down the stretch of the season but hasn’t been effective in the playoffs thus far. He was 1 of 6 in Game 5 in just eight minutes.
Despite those struggles, the Hawks have made this a very competitive series and more so than a lot of people were expecting. It remains to be seen what adjustments they will turn to now that they are facing elimination but the time has come to consider everything.
Dwight Howard sparked the team with a 16-point, 15-rebound performance in Game 4 but was slowed by foul trouble while struggling to get back defensively in Game 5. He didn’t play much in the second half and attempted just three shots in the game.
As has been the case for most of the season, when the Hawks struggle to score, Mike Budenholzer usually elects to go with a smaller lineup featuring either Mike Muscala or even someone like Paul Millsap at center in effort to spread the floor. That was the case in Game 5 and if Howard is struggling to get involved at both ends, he should probably be prepared to go small earlier.
Heading into an elimination game, the Hawks should look at how the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors changed the complexion of their first-round series. As mentioned here -- and analyzed in detail by The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks -- the Celtics replaced big man Amir Johnson with swingman Gerald Green in the starting lineup and the Raptors replaced center Jonas Valanciunas with guard Norman Powell. The adjustments made them quicker, more versatile and helped them space the floor. Atlanta tried to do this down the stretch, but it was too late.
In Howard's brief stint in the final frame, he turned the ball over, committed a foul and was subbed out for center Mike Muscala, who is faster getting up and down the court and isn't afraid to launch the occasional 3-point shot. Down by seven points with 3:20 left, Atlanta replaced Muscala with guard Kent Bazemore, fully embracing smallball as it tried to steal the game. This was bold considering that Howard makes more than $23 million per season, but coach Mike Budenholzer knew that the Hawks had put some distance between them and the Wizards early in the fourth quarter of Game 4 by going without a traditional center.
Atlanta lost the first two games in Washington and Budenholzer elected to stick to his guns as far as his rotation and only made some adjustments to his team’s pick and roll coverage. We will see if he follows the same path in Game 6 now that the season is on the line.