This can’t keep happening. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

ATLANTA – When the Wizards needed a basket down two points in the final seconds of overtime, John Wall didn’t allow somebody to grab his arm and force him into off-balanced layup or jumper. Wall made a beeline to the hoop for an aggressive drive that attracted Atlanta Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap – and then he fed the hot hand, dumping the ball off to Trevor Booker, who made a beautiful reverse layup to put the Wizards 1.8 seconds away from going into a second overtime.

But after finally executing a play on the offensive end in the closing seconds, the Wizards erred on the defensive end and wound up losing 101-99 as Hawks center Al Horford caught a pass from reserve Pero Antic and made a short baseline jumper over Booker as time expired.

“That was a good shot,” Coach Randy Wittman said. Antic “threw it up over the top. We took away their first couple of options. They made a nice play and [Horford] made a shot.”

Wittman also made two decisions after Booker’s tying layup that came back to hurt the Wizards when they needed the stop.

He pulled center Marcin Gortat and replaced him with Garrett Temple, leaving the Wizards with no player taller than 6-feet-8 to contend with a big Hawks lineup that featured 6-11 Antic, 6-10 Al Horford, 6-9 Elton Brand, 6-8 Paul Millsap and 6-7 shooter Kyle Korver.  And he also didn’t have anyone standing in front of Antic to impede his vision, giving the big man a clean look to toss a high lob to Horford over the outstretched arms of Booker.

“I thought I could get the ball. But it went over my head,” said Booker, the Wizards’ tallest defender on the floor. “It hurt.”

The Wizards (9-12) have lost their past three games by a combined seven points and are now 2-4 in games decided by four points or less. They are also 2-4 in overtime games. While it’s easy to get caught up in the Wizards’ poor execution in winnable games – and yes, it has really been poor – they once again paid the price for a lackluster performance from the start.

For the second time in three games, the Wizards had to rally from a 15-point deficit, held a lead in the final minute, and eventually lost in overtime. They lost at home against Milwaukee last week after blowing a five-point lead with 54.9 seconds remaining. And they staged a 21-4 run to take an 86-84 lead with 1 minute, 40 seconds left against Hawks but couldn’t hold on.

“We came back but if we started playing like we did the last four minutes of the game, we could’ve blown them out,” said Booker, who led the Wizards with 24 points and 14 rebounds.

The Wizards needed a spirited performance from Booker since they were without Nene for the second straight game with a sore right Achilles’ tendon, Martell Webster was still working his way back in his return from a sprained left ankle, and Wall, Gortat and Trevor Ariza all struggled through the first three quarters.

“Booker had his best game of the season. Booker was really good,” Wittman said. “He was really the only one in that group who had any energy. Our first group, that’s as bad we could play for 42 minutes. We basically took the night off for 42 minutes…It’s got to change. We can’t play that way for 40 minutes. you just can’t.”

If not for a rare sighting from the bench, which contributed 25 points, the Wizards would’ve been blown off the floor. “We just came out flat and made too many mistakes,” Booker said. “Our defense wasn’t there. We missed assignments and we didn’t execute on offense. We dug ourselves a hole.”

The Wizards trailed 80-65 before Wall finally picked it up on the offensive end by penetrating and getting to the basket. Wall started the game 1 for 10 from the field and even shot an air ball three-pointer before he got going and the team fed off his energy. He dazzled the crowd with highlight plays and made his only three-pointer to give his team the lead, but he admitted afterward that he started too late.

“I didn’t play good in the first half. Didn’t have that energy I needed for my team,” Wall said, adding that the game turned because, “I just made shots. Same shots I took in the first half, I just wasn’t making them. That’s why you play a long basketball game.”

After climbing all the way back and taking a two-point lead near the end of regulation, the Wizards failed to add the finishing touches. Webster missed a baseline jumper and Gortat passed up a wide-open look to force a pass inside to Booker that was intercepted.

The Hawks tied the score on two Horford free throws with 5.5 seconds left then Wall ended regulation by pulling up for an air ball from 20 feet away.

“We got to be more mature about everything that we do,” Gortat said, repeating a comment that he has made after close losses this season.