ATLANTA — Otto Porter Jr. stuck out his long left arm as if it were elastic, snatching the inbounds pass from Kent Bazemore and jetting the other way. John Wall flanked him to his left, and Porter deposited the bounce pass to his point guard in stride. Wall took care of the rest, dribbling a couple times to position himself for a layup that gave the Washington Wizards a 13-point lead with 3 minutes 3 seconds remaining in their 117-102 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Wall then turned around to face the crowd and, sensing the magnitude of the bucket, exclaimed a few words in celebration. Hawks Coach Mike Budenholzer called a timeout, the only weapon left in his possession to halt Washington’s game-deciding 9-1 spurt. But the fans at Philips Arena had already lost faith and were filing to the exits in droves; Atlanta traffic can be brutal at all hours, and watching the rest of the game, to many, was not worth the headache.
The Wizards had prevailed in a game between two of the NBA’s hottest teams. On the heels of a season-worst five-game losing streak, Washington on Monday sealed up its first five-game winning streak, ending the Hawks’ own five-game streak in the process. The teams will complete a home-and-home series Wednesday.
The Wizards encountered the same situation they had confronted the previous time they were in this building, on Nov. 7: up three points through three quarters. In the first meeting, they collapsed, committing eight of their season-high 25 turnovers en route to a 114-99 loss. They did not slacken Monday, instead ramping up their defense to shut down the Hawks, winners of 10 of their previous 12 games, and climb back to .500 at 35-35.
The win meant Washington kept pace with the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons, who both won Monday and remain 1
“We know our backs are against the wall,” Wall said. “We got to take care of what we can first: winning our games. And if other teams lose, that’s big for us, but we just got to keep grinding and competing.”
Porter contributed 16 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double since Jan. 1, but the Wizards largely rode the coattails of their back court. Wall netted 27 points and Bradley Beal tallied 25 as they combined to shoot 8 for 11 from three-point range, and all five starters scored in double figures for the fifth straight game.
Wall added 14 assists to four turnovers, and Beal tied a season high with five three-pointers, including four in the third quarter. He logged 34 minutes, the most he has played since Feb. 11, and needed to leave the game for a couple minutes late in the third and in the middle of the fourth quarters because of his minutes restriction.
“He got going, which was good to see, him getting back, hopefully, back to normal,” Wittman said. “That was huge, that burst that he gave us there. Then I had to take him out. Everybody at home thinking I’m crazy, but because of his minutes I wanted to save [him].”
Washington’s chief priority Monday was taking care of the basketball after its ugly performance here in November, back when Kris Humphries, now with the Hawks, was their starting power forward. The Wizards were successful in that regard, compiling nine turnovers to 27 assists. The Hawks were able to convert just nine points off the giveaways.
“Looking back on our first game, that was the difference,” Wittman said. “To have nine turnovers was fantastic. The movement of the ball was really good. We made simple plays.”
Washington was also able to capitalize on facing one of the few teams ranked worse than them in rebounding. Entering the night, Washington was 27th in the NBA in rebounding percentage; Atlanta was 28th; Washington outrebounded Atlanta 44-33.
But the Hawks were able to stay afloat because of their three-point shooting. Through three quarters, they were 13 of 28 from beyond the arc, including 5 of 8 in the third period. The formula, however, was unsustainable: Atlanta missed all of five of its three-point attempts in the fourth quarter en route to a 16-point period and a loss.
Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, who missed two three-pointers in the fourth quarter, finished with a team-high 23 points, but the Wizards were content with him scoring because their defensive game plan called for forcing Atlanta’s point guards — Teague and Dennis Schroder — to be the scorers. Washington decided to go under screens set for the two and sag off them in hopes of impairing the ball movement that fuels Atlanta’s offense.
As a result, Teague turned down a few open shots and finished just 7 of 17 from the field with four assists. Schroder scored nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, while Markieff Morris was effective in defending all-star Paul Millsap, who was limited to 13 points and two rebounds, on his own most of the night.
“I give credit to Coach Wittman for the game plan,” Wizards forward Jared Dudley said. “That was the difference. [Teague] was so open all the time that he got hesitant to shoot.”