WASHINGTON (AP) — John Wall figured the credit went to the down-the-stretch defense displayed by his Washington Wizards.
Neither Dennis Schroder nor coach Mike Budenholzer found any flaws with the way their Atlanta Hawks handled things late.
Either way, the odd manner in which Atlanta seemed to allow the final half-minute or so to slip away while trailing — not fouling Washington to try to extend things; passing around the ball, instead of shooting it, as the clock headed toward zero — left the Wizards on the verge of closing out the teams’ Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.
Back at home, and back in charge, Bradley Beal scored 27 points, and Wall added 20 points and 14 assists, leading Washington to a 103-99 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday night for a 3-2 series lead.
“I thought they were going to play the foul game — or at least try to trap. But they let us run the clock down,” Wall said, noting that he felt as if he and his teammates finished “with the best scrambling defense we had.”
Schroder led the Hawks with 29 points, making a career high-tying five 3s, and 11 assists. But after his basket from beyond the arc pulled Atlanta within 101-99 with 70 seconds left, Wall responded with a 21-foot pull-up jumper. Neither team would score the rest of the way.
“It was right there,” Schroder said. “We’ve just got to be better in crunch time.”
A miss followed from Paul Millsap, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds, but after Wall’s jumper was off the mark, the Hawks never managed to put the ball in the basket — including sort of fiddling around as if they didn’t realize they were trailing by four.
“We tried to get a clean look,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said, “but they just did a good job of … making it tough on us.”
“I’m not, off the top of my head, frustrated with what we got offensively,” he said.
The host has won every game in this series so far.
Washington can reach the conference semifinals by winning Game 6 at Atlanta on Friday night.
“It’s got to be us,” Budenholzer said, “that’s the aggressor.”
As it is, the series has been filled with physical play, referee whistles and smack talk, including a “Crybaby” accusation and a comparison to MMA fighting.
Dwight Howard — who finally came to the fore in Game 4 with 16 points and 15 rebounds — didn’t play much in the second half, picking up his fourth foul with 2½ minutes left in the third quarter and his fifth off the ball with 8½ minutes to go.
Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up No. 4 after 2½ minutes of the third quarter and didn’t return until there were less than 6 minutes remaining in the fourth. About 2½ minutes after going back in, Morris drew his fifth foul — plus a technical for arguing, eliciting derisive chants about the officiating from spectators.
“It’s been the hardest it’s ever been,” Morris said, “for me to stay out of foul trouble.”
Hawks: Howard scored five points. … Schroder started 4 for 4 on 3-pointers.
Wizards: C Marcin Gortat attempted his first free throws of the entire series with 6:09 left in the fourth quarter. He made the first, rolled his head back as if to say, “Finally!” and then made the second, too.
Former Vice President Joe Biden received the loudest ovation of the first half, with plenty in the sellout crowd of 20,356 rising to cheer him when the videoboard showed him sitting courtside.
Wizards front-court reserve Jason Smith left with a bruised left calf and did not return. Coach Scott Brooks said his status is day-to-day. Washington has been without backup C Ian Mahinmi (strained left calf) all series.
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