ATLANTA — John Wall was dribbling up the court at a frenetic pace, with defenders backpedaling helplessly and teammates gasping to catch up. Wall whirled the ball behind his back to juke Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague and open up what appeared to be a clear lane to the basket.
But as Wall elevated for a two-handed dunk, Hawks forward Josh Smith tracked him down, smashing his shot attempt and sending Wall crashing to the floor. Wall rolled on the ground, holding the back of his head and grimacing after the hard fall.
After a disappointing loss in their season opener, the Washington Wizards were hoping to bounce back with a better, more sustained effort. But they didn’t have the best opponent for that, as the Hawks spent an entire night pushing them back and knocking them down. The Wizards trailed wire-to-wire, and never seriously threatened — with miserable efforts from starters Andray Blatche and Jordan Crawford and a lousy shooting effort overall contributing to a 101-83 loss on Wednesday at Philips Arena.
“It was tough,” Wall said after finishing with 20 points, six assists and a sore noggin after absorbing that hard fall in the second quarter. “They always been a good team. a veteran team, they know what they’re doing and most of them know their roles. They was great.”
Nick Young again led the team in scoring off the bench, scoring a game-high 21 points. JaVale McGee had 15 points and 12 rebounds and Rashard Lewis scored 13, but the Wizards opened at 0-2 for the second season in a row. After surrendering the first 11 points of the game, the Wizards could never find a way to keep up with a playoff-tested team that was coming off a 36-point win over the New Jersey Nets the night before.
Two nights after blowing a 21-point lead against the same Nets, the Wizards found themselves trailing by the same deficit after three quarters. “The game didn’t go our way,” Crawford, the former Hawk, said after scoring just one point and going without a field goal for the first time in 20 career starts, all with the Wizards. “Couldn’t come back. Just couldn’t come back. That’s pretty much it.”
Blatche was upset about how he was used against the Nets, complaining to reporters and also on Twitter about not getting enough touches in the low post. So, on the first play of the game, Wall attempted to get the ball inside, but Hawks forward Marvin Williams jumped the bounce pass and intercepted, leading a fast break that ended with Williams (17 points) scoring a layup on the other end.
Blatche's next field goal attempt was a 21-foot jumper that hit the back of the rim. He then got the ball in the low post and backed down Smith, only to have Williams come from behind to block it. Blatche missed his first seven shots, before finally making his first field goal — a baseline jumper — in the third quarter.
“I think he was pressing,” Coach Flip Saunders said of Blatche. “He had a lot of good looks everywhere and couldn’t get anything to fall.”
Blatche finished with just four points, on 2-of-13 shooting, and never appeared to be in the game. He couldn’t score, and was in a funk defensively, causing teammate Ronny Turiaf to look flustered when he left reserve Vladimir Radmanovic wide open for a layup that gave the Hawks an 82-62 lead in the third period.
Crawford was back in the place he called home for the first half of his rookie season, but the return was far from heroic. The second-year guard was forced to contend with all-star Joe Johnson, whom he backed up sparingly while playing for the Hawks. Johnson dominated Crawford on the defensive end and scored a team-high 18 points.
Crawford missed all six of his shot attempts, including four questionable shots in the final minutes that angered Saunders. “I was disappointed with how he finished the game. Those shots, you finish the game in a respectful way to the game,” Saunders said.
After Johnson made a three-pointer to give the Hawks a 19-4 lead in midway through the first quarter, Wall took it upon himself to carry the Wizards, scoring the next eight points for his team. He had a better game than the opener, but shot poorly again (6 for 15) and struggled with turnovers, committing a game-high six.
Saunders continued to bring Young off the bench, as Young works himself back into game shape after missing all of training camp while waiting to sign a new contract.
Young entered the game with the Wizards trailing by 10 and he quickly helped bring them back as he made his first five shots, connecting on a four-point play that cut the deficit to just 31-28.
Lewis buried a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within two, but the Hawks closed out the first half on a 16-7 run, entered the locker room with ahead, 55-42, and never again had to worry. The Wizards will face the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.
“We did some positive things, but you cant get to that kind of a start against them, and they get that much confidence going,” Saunders said. “You’re searching a little bit.”