It looked like the Wizards' string of road wins to open series would go out the window when the Hawks took a ten point lead into halftime, thanks in large part to a 21 point first half from DeMarre Carroll. The Hawks were sharper and faster than the Wizards for the first two quarters, and it looked like they were getting ready to make quick work of Washington.
But when the third quarter rolled around, the Wizards made the adjustments they needed to impose their style of play on the game, or at least their playoff style of play. Drew Gooden continued his amazing tear with 12 points and 5 rebounds in 14 minutes of action. Otto Porter did more outstanding work on the defensive end and came through with a key three pointer in the clutch to help put the game away. And of course, Paul Pierce continued to make big shots and show everyone else how to perform in hostile environments.
Paul Pierce has a very definable influence on these here Washington Wizards.— Kelly Dwyer (@KDonhoops) May 3, 2015
Here's what else we learned from the Wizards' big win:
House of Guards can play through pain
John Wall and Bradley Beal both spent time on the floor writing in pain this afternoon. First, John Wall sprained his wrist late in the first half. Here's how he reacted:
Wall injury https://t.co/VF1uwYzf0n— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) May 3, 2015
Then, Bradley Beal twisted his ankle in the second half. Here's how he reacted:
Beal was crying heading to the locker room. pic.twitter.com/uEFNtYHzoz— Mark Gunnels (@MarkAGunnels) May 3, 2015
Both ended playing through the pain and delivered big games. They combined for 46 points, 14 assists and 14 rebounds and forced Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver into subpar games, as they combined to go 9-29 from the field and 4-14 from beyond the arc. If the Wizards can continue to dominate the backcourt battle and avoid getting hurt, Washington is in a very good spot.
The Wizards need to find a new way to use Nene
Coming into the series, we expected to see plenty of Paul Pierce and Drew Gooden at power forward, to give the Wizards some extra scoring punch. Still, we weren't expecting Nene to be a complete liability on both ends. He was 0-4 from the field, picked up three fouls and had two turnovers in 17 minutes of action. After struggling to st art the third quarter, he wasn't heard from again, as Randy Wittman opted to roll with Gooden, Kevin Seraphin and Paul Pierce to fill the void in the big man rotation.
Nene's performance certainly reinforces the idea that he isn't an ideal power forward for the pace and space era, but I wouldn't lose hope just yet. Not all of Nene's struggles were because the Hawks are bad matchup.
If he struggles this badly again in Game 2, the Wizards have a big problem, but it would be hard to be THAT bad again. Even if he is, you can hide some of his offensive issues by staggering his minutes to back up Marcin Gortat more than he plays alongside him.
John Wall is a bad man
John Wall stuffed the stat sheet better in his Game 2 performance against the Raptors, but for my money, this was the best playoff performance of his career. He hit some tough shots, outplayed Jeff Teague, fell three rebounds short of a triple-double, and only committed two turnovers against Atlanta's aggressive defense. Most impressively, he did his best later in the game after he hurt his wrist.
Plus, he had this great block, that helped put the final nail in the coffin.
Then he really drove the nail in with this dime to Marcin Gortat:
This is what you wanted to see when the Wizards drafted him in 2010, and now you're seeing it.