Washington Wizards Coach Scott Brooks threw up his hands and was forced to call a timeout moments after the start of the second half Monday night. The visiting Atlanta Hawks had burst out of the locker room to score eight quick points and were well on their way to a 137-129 win.
There was so much for Brooks to be frustrated with in this latest setback; his team was lethargic in the first quarter and trailed by as many as 19. But even after the Wizards clawed back into the game, sparked by a surprising performance by little-used reserve Jordan McRae in the third quarter, they returned to their self-defeating habits on the defensive end down the stretch. The Hawks shot 50 percent and hit 20 of 41 three-pointers, sending Washington to its fourth loss in five games.
The Wizards (22-31) had been one of the NBA’s most improved defensive teams over the entire month of January, banding together with more consistency in the wake of John Wall’s season-ending injury to pull within striking distance of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But they have lost more ground over the past week, including with losses to lowly Cleveland and these Hawks (18-35), who entered Monday’s game at Capital One Arena having spent the previous 13 days on the road. The Wizards looked wearier in the early stages and needed reserves Jeff Green (26 points) and McRae (20 points) to keep them competitive.
The Hawks, who had nine players score in double figures, scored 35 points in the first quarter to open up a 15-point lead, running circles around Washington’s defense with a guard-heavy lineup for much of the early going. It wasn’t until Wizards guard Bradley Beal picked up his third foul with just under nine minutes remaining in the second quarter that Washington was sparked by his replacement, McRae, a two-way contract player who made the most of the opportunity. He sliced up Atlanta’s defense with an array of drives and a two-handed slam through traffic as part of a 21-8 run for Washington, which trailed by just four at halftime.
But the Wizards surrendered those eight quick points early in the second half, including a three-pointer on the first possession of the third quarter by former Maryland star Kevin Huerter, who finished with 19 points and made 5 of 7 three-point attempts. The Hawks had balanced shooting performances up and down the lineup. Rookie big man Omari Spellman showed his range with four three-pointers. Guard Taurean Prince nailed another five. And veteran Vince Carter, who received an ovation when he checked into the game midway through the third quarter, torched the Wizards with four three-pointers himself. That included three in the third quarter as Atlanta once again built a comfortable lead.
Washington, meanwhile, missed 13 of its first 14 three-point attempts and didn’t come on offensively until late.
Washington pulled within six with just over eight minutes remaining, and it had a chance to get even closer with a pair of Otto Porter Jr. free throws. But he missed both, and the Hawks scored quickly on the ensuing two possessions to push the lead back to double digits. That sequence seemed to play on loop down the stretch. Prince drained a three-pointer on an assist from rookie Trae Young (10 assists) with 3:54 left that put his team up by nine. After the Wizards had pulled within 125-120 moments later, Prince hit another three on an assist from Huerter.
Carter hit another three on the next possession, but Washington made one last push. Beal nailed a three-pointer himself with 1:29 left to cut Atlanta’s lead to four, and his dunk with 46.4 seconds to play made it a five-point game. But the Wizards, following the same script all evening, were slow to close out one last time on Prince, who nailed his fifth deep ball of the night to send the Wizards to another loss.