John Wall stared straight ahead, dribbling with his left hand and surging forward while smacking away a probing arm from Hawks forward Kent Bazemore.
What followed was repeated throughout a first-round playoff opener against Atlanta on Sunday: The Wizards’ All-Star point guard cranked up the volume at Verizon Center. Wall rocketed a no-look pass across his body to forward Markieff Morris, who slammed home a one-handed jam that stirred the sellout crowd of 20,356 into a frenzy.
The Wizards trailed the entire second quarter of their 114-107 win over the Hawks, but Morris’ dunk gave Washington a 10-point lead midway through a dominant third. Less than a minute later, after All-Star forward Paul Millsap trimmed the deficit with a layup, Wall found Morris on a lob. The pass dialed up the crowd noise even louder, and Wall soaked up the cheers while clapping high in the air and pointing down to the court.
“I’m letting them know that this is my house,” Wall said of the gesture. “When I’m not being aggressive like that and into it, I’m not a great player.”
With a playoff career-high 32 points to go with 14 assists and a block, Wall was great as the Wizards began the postseason at home for the first time in 38 years. He scored however he wished, tormenting Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder with head fakes and cross-ups that preceded breakneck drives and pull-up jumpers. In the fourth quarter, Schroder skidded to the floor after a fake from Wall.
Schroder, who led Atlanta with 25 points, said the Hawks need to focus on transition defense heading into Game 2 on Wednesday in Washington. The Hawks need to “keep John Wall in front of us and stay with the shooters,” he said.
The Wizards finished with 25 fast-break points, and Wall sparked the definitive scoring spree with 15 points in the third quarter. Early in the period, Wall breached the paint passing out of a 360-degree spin to find Otto Porter Jr. for a go-ahead corner 3 that put the Wizards up 53-52.
Washington came out of halftime hot, starting with a 3-pointer from Morris on the first possession. In his first playoff game, he had 21 points and seven rebounds while helping limit Millsap to 19 points.
Marcin Gortat had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Bradley Beal recovered from a slow start, scoring 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.
Imbalance at the free throw line — where Atlanta attempted 39 shots to Washington’s 17 — contributed to the Wizards’ struggles in the first half.
But with Wall driving and dishing and Morris playing tough, the Wizards were able to leverage their home-court advantage.
Game 1 coverage from The Washington Post: