WASHINGTON - Paul Millsap’s comment about the Wizards “playing MMA” rather than basketball took off in the NBA’s news cycle. So much so that prior to Wednesday night’s bout against the Atlanta Hawks, Markieff Morris doubled down on the comment.
“If that’s MMA, then what we do next might be double MMA,” Morris said.
Both games have been undeniably physical. The only thing keeping it away from being an actual MMA contest is an octagon and a couple of arm-bars. There were 56 fouls between the two sides with Atlanta committing 26 and Washington committing 29. Morris had five of those himself in just 20 minutes of play.
Morris wasn’t the only Wizard in foul trouble. Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre both played with four fouls and Jason Smith, who is the team’s backup center with Ian Mahinmi out, played with five.
All game long, Scott Brooks had to balance out minutes with fouls. And for a moment, it didn’t seem like it was going to work.
Markieff Morris picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter just about three minutes into the period. Smith picked up another foul shortly after he checked in for Morris and with about 7:30 left in the period, the Wizards were in the bonus.
Atlanta used that to get to the rim and get to the free throw line at will. Atlanta went small with Millsap and fueled a 16-2 run that gave them a lead of as many as seven points in the third quarter.
“We fought through a lot of adversity and the guys stuck together when things were not going the way we would have liked,” Brooks said.
That adversity was fueled by controversial officiating. Throughout the first half, the Wizards were looking for calls on drives they just were not getting. Meanwhile, the Hawks seemed to be getting to the line at will with no rim protection in for Washington when Marcin Gortat, who had five blocks, was seated on the bench.
There was a particular exchange in the second quarter where Kent Bazemore drove into the lane and drew a foul with what seemed to be very little contact. On the next offensive possession down the floor for Washington, Wall drove and landed on the floor with contact but did not go to the line.
“Ref, you suck,” chants rained down from the crowd after that play. Brooks was incensed and Wall held his hands high in the air as he slowly jogged back on defense.
Wall did get the benefit of the whistle, going to the line 15 times total in the game. But it was not the calls that bothered Washington — Bradley Beal said it was the rhythm of the game.
“It took us out of our transition game a little bit,” Beal said. “It gives them a chance to set up their defense. It bothered us a little bit. We were fouling too much — some calls we disagree with. But that’s just the course of the game. We did a good job of sticking with it.”
Wall said the officials did the best job they could to call a physical game. The foul trouble did disrupt the Wizards’ rotation a bit and there was an adjustment that had to be made, he said, but the Wizards were able to do it well enough to win.
As far as the pace and physical nature goes for the Hawks, Millsap said, “I liked it.”
“I felt like they called the game as it was,” Millsap said. “It was a balanced game. Very physical game. They did a good job tonight.”
During the Wizards’ final run to close the game out, he said the Hawks did not “execute well.” They allowed the Wizards to play an uptempo style that fits them and that allowed them to pull away, he said.
“They obviously hurt us, getting up and down the court,” Millsap said.
Now, going back to Atlanta, Millsap said the Hawks see the series as tied 0-0 with the Wizards holding serve on their homecourt. Their confidence has not dwindled at all and they are prepared to battle for their playoff lives at home.
Wall said the Wizards know that they still have work to do to win the series. They have only done what they are supposed to, he said. Nothing more. Nothing less.
“We’re supposed to protect home court. We’re supposed to win,” Wall said. “Now we have to go on the road and try to get game three...we feel like we haven’t played our best basketball yet.”