ATLANTA (AP) — After resting up for the past week, the Washington Wizards merely had to withstand Atlanta’s early pace.
Once the Hawks ran out of gas, Bradley Beal and the Wizards took control.
Just call them the road warriors.
Beal shook off a sprained ankle to score 28 points and streaking Washington remained unbeaten in the postseason, knocking off top-seeded Atlanta 104-98 Sunday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It was another gritty performance by the Wizards, who improved to 8-1 on the road in the playoffs over the past two postseasons, including 3-0 this year. They became the first team in NBA history to win four straight Game 1s on the road.
“Just withstanding adversity,” said John Wall, who had 18 points and 13 assists. “We know they’re going to come out and give us a punch right away.”
Taking advantage of a week off since their sweep of Toronto, the Wizards wore down the Hawks in the fourth quarter. Otto Porter scored a couple of big baskets coming down the stretch, including a 3-pointer, and Marcin Gortat sealed it with a lay-in off a pass from Wall with 14.6 seconds remaining.
“We kept talking about it’s a long game,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said. “We got better and better and better.”
The Hawks needed six games to beat eight-seeded Brooklyn and had to open this best-of-seven series with about a 36-hour turnaround. After racing to a 37-26 lead after the first quarter, Atlanta couldn’t make anything in the fourth.
Even with plenty of good looks, the Hawks hit only 5 of 28 (17.9 percent) in the final period, including 1 of 10 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Atlanta.
“Our pace was better in the first half,” Al Horford said. “Maybe in the second half, we were just tired or whatever.”
The frustration for the home team was epitomized by one crucial possession with just over 2 minutes to go. The Hawks kept giving themselves extra chances, hustling for five offensive rebounds. But they missed six straight shots before the Wizards finally grabbed possession, the crowd groaning louder and louder with each ball that clanked off the rim.
“I had a couple of tips that just came out. I couldn’t believe it,” Horford said. “I think that was the key point of the game.”
DeMarre Carroll had another big game for Atlanta with 24 points, but 21 came in the opening half and he went scoreless over the final quarter. He had plenty of company. Horford made only 7 of 19 shots, Kyle Korver was 5 of 15, and Jeff Teague went 4 of 14.
The Hawks picked right up where they left off in their best performance of the postseason, a 111-87 victory Friday night at Brooklyn. Atlanta ran the Wizards ragged, hit 64 percent from the field, and led by 11 at the end of their highest-scoring first quarter of the postseason.
But the Wizards were clearly the fresher team in the second half. The Hawks finished just 38 percent (37 of 98) from the field, including 25 percent over the final two quarters.
Beal hobbled off the court with a sprained right ankle after landing on Horford’s foot with 8:08 remaining. He went to the locker room to get it taped and returned to finish out a superb performance at both ends.
In addition to tying his career scoring high in the playoffs, Beal grabbed seven rebounds and did a good job shadowing Korver at the 3-point stripe. Atlanta’s long-range specialist made only 3 of 11 from beyond the arc.
Paul Pierce had 19 points for the Wizards, and Drew Gooden provided some key minutes off the bench, finishing with 12.
Wizards: Wall sprained his left wrist on a fall under the basket but was able to stay in the game. … Nene got into early foul trouble, played less than 18 minutes and failed to score. But six of his teammates were in double figures. … Wall has put up a double-double in points and assists in four of Washington’s five playoff games this year.
Hawks: Carroll became the first Atlanta player since Dominique Wilkins in 1989 to score 20 points in five straight playoffs games. … The Hawks lost for the first time this season when leading going to the fourth quarter. They were 29-0 during the regular season and had been 3-0 in the postseason. … Atlanta scored more points in the first quarter (37) than the second half (35).
HOMECOMING OF SORTS
Wittman returned to the city where he began his NBA career as a player.
Asked if he had any memories of that time, the 55-year-old coach joked, “I can’t remember what I did last week.”
Wittman was actually drafted by Washington in the first round of the 1983 draft, only to be dealt to the Hawks a week later. He spent five seasons with Atlanta, averaging a career-best 12.9 points a game in 1985-86.
“I’ve still got people in Atlanta I know from 30 years ago,” he said. “But that’s about it.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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