- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2017

At the end, as it continually does for the Washington Wizards, it came down to John Wall and Bradley Beal.

The franchise, season and team’s postseason hopes are built on the young duo. Wednesday night, they combined to close the show.

Wall and Beal scored seven consecutive baskets in the final minutes to pull Game 2 of Washington’s first round playoff series with the Atlanta Hawks out of the muck. Wall hit a jumper and dunked on the break. Beal hit a healing 3-pointer. He was 3-for-9 from behind the 3-point line beforehand and just 11-for-26 from the field during his second mediocre shooting night of the series. But, he found a wing 3-pointer to put Washington in front by eight with 38 seconds to play. Wall raised his arms as the shot arced toward the rim. The sold out crowd in Verizon Center cheered with joy and relief after it went through the net.

“When he shoots it, it’s game over,” Wall said.

The 109-101 win put Washington in a powerful spot. It is up 2-0 after two home games in the best-of-seven series. Game 3 is Saturday night in Atlanta. Two seasons ago, the Wizards swept their first-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. They are in position to do so again.

“We get Game 3, then we can think about getting Game 4,” Wall said. “We know their crowd is going to be amazing. We know they are going to play a lot better basketball, but we feel like we haven’t played our best basketball yet.”

Brandon Jennings engineered an offensive push by Washington early in the fourth quarter. He was responsible for six consecutive points off of two midrange jumpers and a drop pass that led to a Jason Smith dunk. The Wizards tied the game during the surge, setting up the tight final six minutes to be wrapped by Wall and Beal.

Washington took control of the series opener in the third quarter. Wednesday, the Hawks flipped an eight-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead before the fourth quarter began. Markieff Morris and Otto Porter played a combined five minutes in the quarter because of foul trouble. That allowed Atlanta All-Star Paul Millsap to get rolling. He scored 14 points in the quarter, driving to the rim and handling whichever defensive option the Wizards tried with Morris marooned on the bench. Millsap finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and an interesting perspective.

“It’s 0-0 to us,” Millsap said, referring to the Wizards winning both games at home.

The first half had the flow of a clogged storm drain. A game after Millsap said the Wizards were “playing MMA” in Game 1, the referees made thorough use of their whistles in Game 2. The teams were called for 29 combined fouls in the first two quarters and 55 on the night. Washington was charged with 16 of those in the first half, drawing the consistent ire of Wall and coach Scott Brooks. Brooks became irritated enough that he received a technical foul in the second quarter.

“I have a daughter, Lexie, she’s already going to text me about the $2,000 fine I got for the technical, I’m not going to give her another opportunity to text me about saying something about the game,” Brooks said.

Piling up so many fouls restricted Washington’s frontcourt. Porter and Morris were removed from the game early after each acquired two fouls. They did not make it to the half before each receiving a third foul. Foul trouble for the frontcourt forced Brooks to use three-guard lineups with Jennings playing alongside Wall and Beal for a spell. Jennings started guarding the ball, but after Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroder scored on him and backup wing player Kent Bazemore scored on him, Jennings was moved to guard a corner shooter. His inability to defend will be an issue going forward for the Wizards in this series and, if they advance, beyond.

Matching the unappealing look of a half filled with fouls was clunky shooting. Washington shot 40.5 percent from the field. Atlanta shot 34.9 percent. The Hawks were 0-for-8 from behind the 3-point line.

Someone had to lead despite the widespread wayward play. Washington was up by eight, 51-43, at halftime. It went into the second half knowing that Morris and Porter needed to survive as long as possible without committing a fourth foul. Neither did. Porter committed his fourth foul less than two minutes into the third quarter and was replaced by Kelly Oubre. Morris committed his fourth foul two minutes later. Jason Smith entered the game for him.

“For us to win this game with Kieff and Otto and [Bojan Bogdanovic] in foul trouble, that’s big for us,” Wall said.

Amid the mess was more excellent play from Wizards center Marcin Gortat. He outplayed former teammate Dwight Howard in Game 1. He did it again in Game 2. Gortat was 4-for-5 from the field, had four rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots in the first half. Howard was again a limited factor during the two periods. Center is a spot that Atlanta needed to hold an advantage. It has through the first two games because of Gortat’s stout and savvy play stopping Howard and, at times, Millsap.

An early 10-point Washington lead went away when the Wizards began to trickle their bench players onto the floor in the first quarter. By the end of the quarter, Atlanta held a one-point lead, 24-23.


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