While the Warriors opened a quest for a third consecutive NBA Finals appearance, the Rockets dominated. Take a look back at the top moments from the weekend in the playoffs.
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WASHINGTON – John Wall on a fastbreak puts the defense in a difficult position, and Wall operating the Washington Wizards’ halfcourt offense creates a predicament for the defense.
When Wall is the perfect mix of both – as he was on Sunday – the Wizards are difficult to beat. Not that the Atlanta Hawks didn’t know that, but the idea was reinforced in Washington 114-107 victory against the Hawks in Game 1 of their first-round Eastern Conference series.
Wall scored a playoff career-high 32 points, delivered 14 assists and had four rebounds, accounting for 57 of Washington’s points with his shooting and passing.
“If I’m scoring and my teammates are scoring, I’m always going to be hyped,” Wall said. “I get more excited when I get a nice assist than I do scoring.”
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The Wizards established the early theme to this series: if the Hawks can’t limit Wall, it’s going to be tough for the fifth-seeded Hawks to beat the fourth-seeded Wizards. Game 2 is in Washington on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV).
Wall took over the third quarter with 15 points and four assists and helped turn a halftime deficit into an 83-76 Washington lead headed into the fourth. During one sequence of the third, he scored or assisted on 14 consecutive points – a driving reserve layup, back-to-back assists to Markieff Morris for vicious dunks, a three-pointer, an alley-oop pass to Marcin Gortat and a layup for a three-point play.
It went from a 61-55 Wizards lead to a 75-61 Wizards lead in three minutes, with Wall displaying his ability to break down defenders in transition and with his deliberate attack in halfcourt offense.
“John can take over games, he can take over quarters, he can take over plays,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s a tremendous competitor and he plays with toughness and he gets shots – 32 and 14, that’s a high-level All-Star game. Not only is he one of the best players at his position, he’s one of the best players in the league. I see that every day.
“I’ve seen it enough, and I know now to just keep my mouth shut and let him take over the game.”
Wall can score – he had 52 points against Orlando on Dec. 6 – but there’s no doubt Wall is at his best when he’s reaching double digits in assists while scoring when necessary. Getting his teammates involved offensively, especially Morris and Otto Porter Jr., makes Washington dangerous.
The opponent’s strategy is usually to slow Wall, but his speed, decision-making and savvy have destroyed several teams’ game plans.
“If he wanted to average 27, 28 or 30 points a game, he could probably do that,” Brooks said. “But it’s not going to make us a better team. He makes us a better team by playing the way he plays on both ends of the floor. He brings a toughness and edge to our team that we need.”
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Wall was an All-Star for the fourth time this season, but Sunday’s performance proved he is worthy of making one of the three All-NBA teams – a spot reserved for one of the top six guards in the league this season.
His play this season (23.1 points, 10.7 assists and two steals per game) gives him a strong chance to make it, and it’s a goal Wall set out to achieve at the start of the season. The Wizards had the best record in the Eastern Conference from Dec. 1 through the end of the regular season, and Wall was a major reason for that.
This was Wall’s first playoff game since the 2015 postseason when the Hawks eliminated the Wizards 4-2 in the second round. Wall missed three games of that series with five non-displaced fractures in his left hand. Had Wall been healthy, the Wizards had a much better chance to beat the Hawks and reach the conference finals.
Wall admitted that’s been on his mind, and if he keeps playing like he did Sunday, Wall will get that series victory over the Hawks he wanted two seasons ago.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
A.J. Neuharth-Keusch and Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports take a look at the four postseason matchups in the East.
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