The opening game in the first-round playoff series between the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks included moments when Paul Millsap and Markieff Morris, and then John Wall and Dennis Schroder, talked some smack and exchanged words.
But after the Wizards won 114-107 on Sunday, Millsap indicated that the Wizards turned the game into something closer to WWE’s SmackDown.
“The difference in the game was we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA,” Millsap told reporters, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They were physical. When the game is like that, we have to match their physicality. But again, we’ve got to go get some moves and bring them back to the court.”
Wizards star guard John Wall sprinted his way to a playoff career-high 32 points plus 14 assists. Wall was a blur at times, scoring 15 points in a third quarter that proved to be the knockout punch for Washington in Game 1.
But Millsap felt the officials let the Wizards get away with overly physical play, despite the fact that Atlanta made 32-of-39 from the line while Washington went to the free throw line only 17 times, making 16.
Morris played Millsap physically from the start and helped set a tone for the Wizards at home. After Millsap was called for a shooting foul on Morris near the end of the first half, the two players had a brief exchange before both teams went back to the locker rooms.
Millsap called it “just two guys playing hard — just two guys playing hard.”
Morris’ play was a major boost for Washington; he had 21 points and 7 rebounds in his first career playoff game, while Millsap had 19 points and 2 rebounds.
“The ball is like gold now — every possession counts,” Morris said of his play. “I’m just going headfirst every play. It is what it is. If we gonna jostle the whole series, then that’s what it’s going to be.”
Millsap looked frustrated at times after driving inside and drawing contact while officials let both teams play. At one point in the fourth quarter, Marcin Gortat dunked on Millsap before shoving the Hawks forward and drawing a technical foul with 3:08 left in the game.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer credited Washington for attacking and putting the Hawks on their heels in the third quarter. The Wizards blew open the game with a 30-13 run to turn a 48-45 halftime deficit into a 75-61 lead.
“I thought they were more aggressive than us in the third quarter on both ends,” Budenholzer said. “Usually the aggressor is rewarded. We have to remember that and take that forward.”
The Hawks have a few days to make adjustments before Wednesday’s Game 2.
“I just want to reiterate that it’s a long series,” Millsap said, according to the Journal-Constitution. “They did what they are supposed to do. They won home-court advantage and they got this first game. They did their jobs tonight. I think it’s important that we come out and get this one Wednesday and take it back to Atlanta.”