The Wizards got just about everything they could have asked for tonight: John Wall returned to the lineup and played like a man who didn't have a broken hand, Bradley Beal put together another brilliant performance, the Wizards forced the Hawks into more turnovers than assists, Kyle Korver only scored 3 points, and Paul Pierce hit another vintage Truthbomb to give the Wizards the lead with under 10 seconds to go.
Yet somehow, here we are, wondering why the Wizards are down 3-2 in this series after an 82-81 loss to the Hawks.
While there's plenty of things you can point to, the simplest explanation for the loss was that the Wizards spent too much of the game playing like the team that confounded fans for most of the season. They struggled to space the floor well, lacked a big man who could guard a stretch bg, and didn't get enough from their bench.
Still, despite losing the game, there's still reason for hope in the midst of a dark day that saw the Wizards and Capitals fall short in important playoff games. Even though they lost tonight, the Wizards have two things going for them: They got their most important player back on the floor, and now they can shift the momentum back in their favor on their home floor Friday night for Game 6.
Here's what else we learned tonight:
John Wall is BACK
Look, it's one thing to just return from injury sooner than expected and be another useful player, but John Wall showed even with a jacked up hand he can still make some incredible highlights:
There will probably be some talk about his six turnovers tonight, but honestly, that was more a function of clunky offense than any issues with his hand. You could tell with some of his drives he was being a little more protective than usual, and he only shot two free throws, but it's not like he was playing scared. The Wizards are in a much, much better spot with Wall, even if he's at 90 percent.
Bradley Beal tightens the clamps on Atlanta
As good as Bradley Beal was holding it down offensively with John Wall out, his defense, even while handling primary scorer duties, was simply amazing in Games 2-4 and he took it to another level tonight. With Wall back in the lineup tonight, Beal had even more energy to burn on the other end of the court and it showed in Kyle Korver's performance, as he only went 1-5 from the field. Korver's lone make coming on a ridiculous long bomb in transition that only he and Stephen Curry could make with any kind of regularity. If that's the one shot you give up, you just have to live with it. Beal also had three blocks when he wasn't stuck on Korver like a clingy sock fresh out of the dryer.
Bradley Beal is far more than a classic "3 & D" player, but it's been amazing to see how he can take on the role of a defensive stopper when needed, and it do it at an incredibly high level while still handling so many duties on the offensive end. He's also only 21 years old.
Wizards continue to struggle in the paint
As has been the case throughout this series, the Wizards haven't been able to win the battle in the paint. Obviously, there will be plenty of discussion on what went wrong on the final play where Al Horford grabbed the offensive rebound for the game winner, but the Wizards' inability to establish any presence in the paint has been their biggest issue all series long. Not only Paul Millsap and Al Horford consistent outplayed Nene and Marcin Gortat, as many expected, but Mike Muscala has been big for Atlanta as well. He's been to the Hawks what Drew Gooden was for the Wizards against the Raptors. He's spacing the floor, winning the rebound battle and opening things up for the rest of the second unit when he's on the floor.
The Wizards haven't found a way to stop any of them in this series and it's hard to imagine where Kris Humphries would do any better, if we're being honest. The Hawks just have a unique set of big men and the Wizards' best approach to beating them might just have to be outgunning them in the backcourt.