Washington Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said the team’s defense sparked the team to a 103-99 victory Wednesday over the Atlanta Hawks before another sellout crowd at the Verizon Center in D.C.
The Wizards had 10 blocked shots and forced the Hawks to shoot nearly 41 percent from the floor and only 29 percent at the 3-point line. In addition, Wednesday was the first time this series the Wizards held Atlanta to fewer than 100 points.
More importantly, the Wizards have a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the playoffs. The Wizards can advance to the semifinals with a victory in Atlanta on Friday.
“We had a great film session. It was pretty direct and honest and I think the guys responded,” Brooks said. “Our film session was good yesterday and we came back with a good focus and gave ourselves a change to hold a team right at 40 percent.”
Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, who led the team with 27 points and grabbed five rebounds, said Brooks challenged his teammates Tuesday.
“He basically told everybody if you did good or not and whether or not you can guard [your opponent]. He was straight forward about it,” said Beal, who also had three steals and three blocks. “If you can’t guard, you can’t play. We did a good job analyzing film and accepting criticism.”
The team hopes to bring that defensive intensity to Atlanta, but neither team has won on the road in this series.
Hawks forward Paul Millsap, who scored 21 points and 11 rebounds, said Tuesday one of the toughest aspects for a younger player comes from playing with the same vigor at home and on an opponent’s homecourt.
That also can fall in line with a team’s bench, which received plenty of praise by Brooks.
Wizards forward and second-year player Kelly Oubre Jr. deflected a pass out of bounds and screamed toward the crowd, who of course yelled back.
Point guard Brandon Jennings stole the ball from Hawks counterpart Jose Calderon and scored on a breakaway layup.
Bojan Bogdanovic led the team’s reserves with 14 points, but was the receiving end of perhaps the most exciting play of the night.
The crowd got hyped when Jennings made a smooth behind-the-legs move past Calderon. Then, he drove into the paint and dished a one-handed, no-look pass to Bogdanovic for a reverse layup.
“It wasn’t just my play. Kelly was harassing the guys and he got the crowd pumped in deflecting [a pass]. That all triggers to the team,” Jennings said. “Kelly got a big dunk. Bojan got a nice reverse layup. It’s all the team. As long as we stick together we’ll be all right.”
Wizards forward/center Jason Smith went out in the third quarter with a left calf contusion.
Brooks said Smith will be re-evaluated Thursday to see if he can play in Game 6 on Friday.
Backup center Ian Mahinmi remained sidelined with a calf injury, but expressed optimism after a workout Tuesday about his chances of playing in the series. However, he has yet to practice with the team.