- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

ATLANTA — The soft black cast around John Wall’s swollen left wrist and lack of sweat on his forehead postgame showed his participation level in Game 2. Wall was a late scratch, ruled out of the Washington Wizards‘ second game against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night because his sprained wrist would not allow him to dribble with control.

Wall was hurting since falling on the wrist Sunday in Game 1. He vowed that if nothing was broken, which he said it is not, he would play. Tuesday morning he again said he believed he would play. A brief test in warmups 90 minuted before tipoff was enough to put him in a suit instead of an uniform.

“I just walked out there and walked back,” Wall said. “It was like 10 seconds.”

Without the Eastern Conference’s starting point guard in the All-Star Game, the Wizards lost for the first time this postseason as they learned about life without Wall. Only assessing the score of Game 2, a 106-90 win by the Hawks that evened the Eastern Conference semifinal at 1-1, could present a twisted view of the game. The Wizards were within touch for most of the night, trailing by five points with 6:01 to play. Atlanta pulled that lead to 12 points just two minutes later.

“We could have had better execution there in the fourth,” Paul Pierce said. “It was a tight ball game. We put ourselves in position in the fourth quarter right where we wanted to be, down five or four with like five minutes to go. That’s all you can ask for on the road, to give yourself a chance. But, got to have better execution down the stretch regardless if John is playing or not. We felt like this [was] a game we could have won.”

That feeling was spread throughout the Wizards‘ locker room. Washington also feels it can win the series without Wall.

Pierce, never short on bravado, credited Atlanta. He cited its 60 wins. He acknowledged that if a team makes several mistakes against the Hawks, it will pay. That does not mean he thinks the Wizards don’t have the ability to grapple the series away from Atlanta if Wall — who is officially day-to-day and plans to receive a second opinion on his injury — is out for a long period of time.

“Definitely you miss Wall,” Pierce said. “All-star starter, our best player. Of course you miss him. But, you know, we’re not going to cry foul or use that as an excuse. We got to band together collectively, use the guys we have because we feel like we can beat them with what we have.”

Bradley Beal said he found out that Wall would not play when everyone else did, about 60 minutes before the game. That was also when the news was delivered to Atlanta. Once the official rosters, which include the list of inactive players, were handed in, the Hawks were alerted to Wall’s absence.

They had changes prepared regardless. Atlanta altered its defensive coverages in Game 2 from quarter to quarter. Differences from Game 1 included blitzing and trapping ball-handlers like Beal and Ramon Sessions, who played an excellent game in place of Wall. Sessions scored 21 points, had four assists, three rebounds and only two turnovers. The 21 points were his most in more than a year.

Beal found himself overcompensating for Wall’s absence. He forced shots in the first half. At one point, he dribbled into three defenders in the lane and had his shot blocked from behind by gravity-challenged Kyle Korver. He fetched the offensive rebounds and missed again. Beal was just 8-for-22 on the night. Without Wall’s penetration, or an equivalent threat of it, the landscape changed for Beal.

“I saw 30 jerseys, all wearing white,” Beal said of whenever he began to dribble. “I kind of expected that. That’s an adjustment I have to make, and Paul told me to trust my teammates. … I was forcing it a little bit in the first half trying to make up for John’s absence. I know what I need to do now.”
It wasn’t just a change in coverage on Beal. Atlanta also shifted how it worked against Washington’s small-ball lineup, with Pierce at power forward, that had been so effective in the playoffs.

“We put Paul at the four, they started doing things we haven’t seen,” Beal said. “We were kind of lost, in a daze a little bit. Offensively we weren’t moving the ball really, we were really stagnant. Those things end up hurting.”

Washington is now in the middle of a playoff series without Wall. He will receive treatment the next three days, joking that he is ready to take up residence in the training room. He does not know if he will be able to play in Game 3 on Saturday night at Verizon Center. The Wizards will have to adapt not only to the possibility of Wall again being out, but also to Atlanta’s shifts in strategy. They are undaunted.

“We have to make adjustments,” Beal said. “First, we have to watch film on how they played and prepare for if John doesn’t play. We have to step up individually and as a team. We have to do better on both ends of the floor because this team’s beatable. We know we … we feel like we’re the better team, just have to go out and do what we’re supposed to do.”

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