Any momentum created by Washington’s stunning victory over the defending champion Miami Heat on Tuesday appeared to have vanished on the charter flight to Atlanta. Rookie Bradley Beal and big man Kevin Seraphin helped bring the Wizards back to life, pulling the team within two points, but the Hawks continued their dominance over Washington with a 104-95 victory at Philips Arena.
“We went back to the old Wizards, so to speak, instead of the team we know we can be,” Beal said after scoring 18 points. “Our defense wasn’t there, both on the ball and help defense. We weren’t communicating, we weren’t in the right spots, and we were just all over the place, basically. We weren’t there mentally.”
Josh Smith scored eight of his game-high 23 points in the final 2 minutes 44 seconds as the Hawks beat the Wizards in Atlanta for the 10th consecutive game, dating from Jan. 11, 2008. The Hawks have won five in a row over Washington overall.
The last time the Wizards were in Atlanta, on Nov. 21, Martell Webster ran off the court, confident his rebound put-back had secured the first victory of the season. Players watched the replay in the locker room, but Nene stayed on the court praying for a favorable result, and the Wizards were dealt another gut-wrenching loss — their 10th in a row to start the season — when the shot was waved off.
The Wizards (2-14) have won twice since then, but they arrived a different team after starting small forward Trevor Ariza, their best perimeter defender, strained his left calf in the win over Miami. Coach Randy Wittman placed Webster in the starting lineup for the first time this season and Webster had just five points.
Webster also was caught with a difficult defensive assignment down the stretch, when the Hawks moved Smith to small forward and he made a three-pointer and a contested jumper, then converted a three-point play during a 13-2 run that turned a 91-89 game into a laugher.
“That game is deceased, as far as I’m concerned. It happened so long ago,” Webster said of the 101-100 loss in the previous meeting with Atlanta. “We weren’t thinking about the last game we played here, we were thinking about the last game we just played, against Miami. Getting carryover from that game. We’ve got to figure out a way to psyche ourselves out, as if we’re playing the Miami Heat each night.”
Beal scored 14 points in the third quarter, playing with an assuredness and aggressiveness that has been lacking in recent weeks. He slipped inside for layups and stepped outside to hit two three-pointers, including a wide-open shot from long distance that brought the Wizards within 80-71.
“I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do. I was bothered, I had like a headache. I was kind of under the weather,” Beal said. “In the second half I just told myself I have to be aggressive.”
Seraphin (team-high 19 points and seven rebounds) and Jordan Crawford combined for 17 points in the fourth quarter, with Crawford converting a nifty left-handed layup in traffic to bring the Wizards within 91-87 with 4:42 remaining. Beal later stole the ball from Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and coerced Al Horford into fouling him before making two free throws, but the Wizards wouldn’t convert another field goal for the rest of the game.
After Smith erupted, Teague (19 points) stole the ball from Webster for a dunk that put away the game.
“They a good team,” said Crawford, a former Hawk who finished with 14 points and five assists. “When I was here, we used to always pull out games like this. I think we’re going to get better down the road, that’s all. They made a couple of unexpected shots. And that really hurt us. We didn’t execute that good down the stretch, a couple of turnovers. Cost us.”
Nene had 12 points as the Wizards’ bench outscored the Hawks’ reserves 53-18, but Washington only had one starter score in double figures. Five Hawks players scored in double figures, with Horford scoring 14 points with 14 rebounds. The Hawks didn’t have Kyle Korver, who made decisive three-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining in overtime of their previous game. Korver’s wife had a baby on Wednesday, so the Hawks started Stevenson, who filled in with 15 points.
“Defensively, it was one of our poorest performances that we’ve had in a while,” Wittman said.