Less surprising than the fact the Hawks bounced back against the Wizards with a commanding 116–98 win on their home turf? The fact that this series has gotten contentious. Atlanta and Washington, divisional rivals, have harbored some bad blood dating back to a heated 2015 playoff series, one you might remember for “I called game,” but also one in which star Wizard John Wall played with a broken hand and the Wizards nearly won anyway. Wall has beefed with Hawks guard Dennis Schróder since then, contending Schröder instructed teammates to hit his injured hand in that series two years ago.
The Wizards have also butted heads with the Celtics this season and are no stranger to controversy, just as Schröder has evolved into one of the league’s more notable irritants over the last couple of years. Also factor in tough-talking Markieff Morris, who caused what is presently a small stir after the loss on Saturday by calling Paul Millsap a “crybaby.”
“He did more for his team today, ” Morris said of Millsap, speaking with reporters. Morris was displeased with Atlanta’s lobbying of officials and took it to the media. “Me as a man you take your wins with your losses. I take my wins and my losses all the time. He just did more for his team. He's a crybaby. Get all the calls & you a crybaby. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
The news reached Millsap on the podium (“It’s personal now,” he responded) and got a chuckle out of Schröder.
Extracurricular conversation aside, Saturday’s result elevated this first-round series from snooze territory and into the realm of viewing interest, the Hawks leaping out to an 18-point lead in the first quarter and never handing it back. The Wizards struggled to make shots, period, and played into the Hawks’ hands: subtract John Wall’s 10/12 shooting line and Washington shot just 35% as a team. Bradley Beal had 12 points and made zero three-pointers. It goes without saying that this won’t work for the Wiz. Wall had to deal with Schröder picking him up full court most of the night.
There’s never a mathematical through-line to how much of a role attitude can play over the course of a series, but after how potent the Washington offense looked over the first two games, it’s safe to say the tenor has shifted. The Hawks’ defense came and went all season. For now, it’s back. Atlanta turned a 19–4 lead into a 38–13 lead, benefited from a loud home environment and, most importantly, put the brakes on their collapse before ever inching close to the ledge. Millsap (29 points and 14 rebounds) and Schröder (27 and nine assists) were appropriately stellar, the effort on the glass picked up and for the first time, Washington backpedaled.
The Wizards are still favorites, and their play in the first two games was convincing, but this series is officially a thing now. The distaste in postgame voices is palpable, and Saturday’s responses were nothing if not replete with salt. Everyone likes rivalries, right? Here’s one to chew on for the next week, at minimum. This was never going to be a drool-worthy first round matchup, but…it’ll do. As a wise man once said, you take your wins with your losses.