Markieff Morris may have taken exception with Paul Millsap's comment after Game 1 that the Hawks were more focused on John Wall and Bradley Beal, instead of Morris and his fellow Wizards' big man Marcin Gortat. In the three games since, however, the Hawks have done a solid job against the Wizards' bigs, and Morris in particular.
At Tuesday's practice, both Millsap and Howard explained how they think that method is working. If they worry about the Wizards' backcourt, they feel they can affect the rest of the team from there.
"We've actually just been trying to focus on Wall and Beal," Millsap said. "I guess taking them out of the game not letting them get everyone else involved, I think that's what has helped us out. Those guys really feed off of John's penetration and his ability to pass the basketball. I think that the guards have done a great job of trying to limit that."
The Hawks are second among all playoff teams with 194 paint points compared to the Wizards' 158. Much of that falls on Gortat and Morris, the Wizards' starting big men who are tasked with battling Millsap and Howard on both ends of the floor.
Morris had a terrific first game of the series with 21 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Since, he's averaged just 7.0 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 29.6 percent from the field. Morris has been in foul trouble in each of those games, but that is a considerable drop-off. Gortat has continued to rebound well, he had 18 in Game 4, but after scoring 14 points in each of the first two games he's been limited to two points in each of the last two.
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Howard was much more detailed than Millsap in going through exactly what the Hawks have been able to eliminate from Wall that is throwing off both Gortat and Morris.
"It's just reading John Wall and what he likes to do when he gets in the paint. After playing a team a couple of times you get the rhythm of what they want to accomplish on the offensive end. With John when he gets into the paint, as soon as that big helps he's looking to make that quick pass to Gortat or to whoever the big is in the game," Howard said.
"John was doing an excellent job in the first two games of finding March late, to where he could just catch it and finish. We've been trying to take that away and do a good job on the pick-and-roll with John. Force [Wall] to take tough shots. He's been making a lot of tough shots, but we'd rather have that than Marcin getting those easy buckets and getting into a rhythm... It's the same thing [with Morris]. He got a lot of his points off John Wall getting to the basket and making plays. Coming off the pick-and-roll, he's finding Morris. He got a spin-out lob in the first game. It's just taking away those easy buckets and making guys work for shots."
Howard believes cutting off the pick-and-roll and easy assists for Wall makes him uncomfortable. Continue to take away easy looks for Wall and eventually he will start to struggle, too. For Beal, it's about forcing him out of his catch-and-shoot rhythm.
"That's the key in the playoffs," Howard said. "Bradley, he's tough to guard out on the perimeter. He shoots the ball well. He gets his shots with ease. But it's about taking away his [spots] and making him take tough shots. After a while, when you play in a series, your legs start to get up under you. Your arms start to get tired. Those same shots and those same looks that you got in the first game are a little bit different now. We've just gotta make sure those guys work for shots. When they've gotta work extra hard for shots and you're playing a seven-game series, after the first couple of games then your legs are shot and you have to find other ways to score."
Wall is averaging 28.8 points on 50.7 percent shooting in this series, while Beal is at 24.3 points on 41.8 percent. They are the straws that stir the Wizards' drink and will remain the Hawks' focus until the former makes them pay for it.
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