Now it’s a three-game series.
That’s the mindset Washington Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said the team now has after practice Tuesday on the eve of Game 5 at home against the Atlanta Hawks with the first-round playoff series tied at two games apiece.
“It’s an evenly matched series,” he said. “We’re excited about our opportunities tomorrow night. We definitely have to play better and I have a lot of confident our guys will.”
Brooks also urged Wizards fans to show up in full force Wednesday, especially with the unusual 6 p.m. tipoff. Most weeknight games are played at 7 p.m.
“Get out early, please,” he said with a smile.
The Hawks tied the best-of-seven series after a 111-101 victory Monday night in Atlanta, which saw center Dwight Howard play his best game of the series with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Six other Hawks also scored in double figures, led by veteran forward Paul Millsap’s 19.
Both teams won two games on their home court, but Millsap has been the most consistent frontcourt player on either team, averaging 23 points and nine rebounds in the series.
The objective for the Hawks Wednesday: steal a victory on the road.
“It’s a tough concept to teach younger guys,” said Millsap, who also nine rebounds and seven assists in Monday’s win. “We have some young guys who are more than capable in going out there on this level [to produce].”
One of those young players, rookie Taurean Prince, has become the Hawks’ third-leading scorer in the playoffs. He scored 11 points and pulled down seven rebounds Monday.
“Just his energy and his hustle has been great,” Millsap said. “Hopefully his game continues to get better and he continues to produce. When he’s doing that, I think we are actually a better team.”
As for the Wizards, its bench has been up and down.
Bojan Bogdanovic played 17 minutes and scored 13 points, but possibly could’ve had more with several mismatches against Hawks backup point guard Jose Calderon, who had his best game of the playoffs with 10 points and five assists.
Wizards second-year forward Kelly Oubre Jr. only played scoreless eight minutes Monday, saddled by three early fouls.
John Wall attributed Oubre’s lack of production to foul trouble.
After getting roughed up in the two losses in Atlanta, Wall said the team must do a better job to protect the paint. Nearly 45 percent of the Hawks’ points this series have been scored inside.
“It was just simple stuff. It was nothing they did spectacular,” said Wall, who had 22 points and 10 assists Monday. “They did what they were supposed to do. They took care of home court. We have to do what we did the first two games: protect home court.”
They’ll have to do so without center Ian Mahinmi, who has been out the entire series so far with a strained calf. Mahinmi hopes to play in Game 6, but Brooks said he consult team doctors before making a decision.