WASHINGTON (AP) — Suddenly, the Atlanta Hawks went from so-so in the playoffs to looking a bit more like a No. 1 seed.
“That’s how we play. That’s how we’ve been playing all year,” forward Paul Millsap said. “Things we didn’t do, pretty much all series, we did tonight.”
Jeff Teague scored 26 points, Millsap added 19 points, six assists and five rebounds, and Al Horford had 18 points and 10 rebounds as three of Atlanta’s four All-Stars played significant roles to help the Hawks beat the Washington Wizards 106-101 on Monday night and evened their second-round series at two games apiece.
Washington’s lone All-Star, point guard John Wall, missed a third consecutive game with a broken left hand.
Game 5 in the best-of-seven series is Wednesday night at Atlanta.
“To me, personally, I think this is the best we’ve played all series,” said Millsap, who had eight points in Game 3, when he was dropped from the starting lineup because of flu-like symptoms. “Thirty assists, the way we played defense, the way we stepped up, the way we helped each other, the way we moved the basketball, the way we set screens.”
Is that all, Paul?
“That was midseason form right there,” agreed Kyle Korver, Atlanta’s fourth All-Star, who was limited to four shots and six points, but all of the attention Washington paid to slowing him opened room for other Hawks. “I thought we played with just a lot of juice, and a lot of energy, and a lot of purpose.”
Still, this one wound up being tight toward the end.
Two days after hitting a buzzer-beater to win Game 3, Washington’s Paul Pierce missed a 3-point attempt that would have tied the score coming out of a timeout with 9.5 seconds left.
“Thought I got a great look,” Pierce said.
Said Bradley Beal, who scored a career playoff-high 34 points for the Wizards: “I thought it was going in. … That open one’s always the hardest one to make.”
Right from the start, the Hawks were back to being the free-flowing, ball-moving regular-season version of themselves, the squad that won 60 games, rather than the disjointed, disorganized bunch that had been 5-4 this postseason.
They used backdoor cuts. They drove to the basket. They found the open man.
Early on, the Hawks built a 16-0 edge in points in the paint. And during a stretch that helped grow the lead to as many as 14 in the second quarter, Atlanta scored on seven consecutive possessions — with six players contributing points.
“It felt good just to see how passionate the guys were and how hungry we were at the beginning of the game. That let me know we were here to play,” said Teague, who hit a key 3 with 72 seconds left to get the margin to seven points.
Coach Mike Budenholzer praised his players for being aggressive at both ends of the court, but noted: “We’ve got to find a way to do that for more of the 48 minutes.”
The Wizards, seeded fifth in the Eastern Conference, entered Monday with the best record in these playoffs at 6-1, including 3-0 at home. And they got terrific performances from Beal and Pierce, who scored 22 points, including five of Washington’s 12 makes from beyond the arc.
But with Wall again limited to cheerleading, the Wizards led the game get away from them.
“It was a great opportunity for us to go up 3-1,” Beal said. “We won one game without John. We can do it again.”
Hawks: The Hawks’ All-Star quartet — Teague, Millsap, Horford and Korver — combined for 43 points in the first half, only one fewer point than they totaled in all of Game 3. … When G Dennis Schroder missed two free throws in the fourth quarter, spectators won free chicken sandwiches via a promotion — drawing, as usual, the loudest cheers of the night.
Wizards: Entered Monday as one of two NBA teams — along with Memphis — that had not lost at home during this postseason. … Beal’s previous playoff high was 28 points.
Beal was asked whether he thought Korver traveled in the closing seconds, right before Millsap was fouled and scored the game’s last two points.
“Yeah, but they didn’t call it,” Beal said. “Oh, well.”
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