There was a concert Wednesday night at Verizon Center. Unfortunately, it starred The Three Whistlers instead of The Three Tenors.
The Wizards and Hawks tried to play Game 2 of their first-round playoff series between chirps. The rest of their time was spent complaining about the referees’ choppy performance.
Here’s what the contest — a 109-101 Wizards victory — felt like in a nutshell:
Washington on offense. Tweet! Hawks throw up their hands in disbelief. Atlanta on offense. Tweet! Wizards’ mouths hit the floor in amazement.
To keep things from becoming too routine, each team reacted with exasperation whenever it wanted to hear a blast but didn’t.
No one was happy. Not the players, not the coaches and not the fans. Count me among that number, too. It was a brutal experience, where virtually every stoppage led to cringes and every non-call was treated like a capital offense.
“It’s tough and we can’t do anything about it,” Wizards guard John Wall said of the flow, after scoring 32 points to match the playoff-career high he notched in Game 1. “All we can do is go out there and compete. The referees are trying to do the best they can.
Atlanta shot 38 free throws, the most by a Washington opponent this season. In the game’s first 24 minutes, there were 29 fouls, split about evenly as the Wizards took a 51-43 lead into halftime.
It seemed clear that the referees followed the chatter after Game 1, when Hawks forward Paul Millsap accused Washington of “playing MMA.” That assessment led Millsap’s counterpart, Markieff Morris, to tell reporters the Wizards might do “double-MMA” Wednesday.
The game undoubtedly was physical. Players hit the floor as if they fell out of bed. During one second-half scramble, Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. left Taurean Prince flat on his back after an unintentional rolling block at half court. In another instance, Millsap and Wizards forward Jason Smith got tangled while going for a rebound and both players were laid out, staring at the ceiling as if taking a 10-count.
“I feel like the refs called the game as it was,” Millsap said. “There were fouls and they were called on both sides. It was a very balanced, very physical game.”
But didn’t all the calls mess up the flow?
“Yes and no,” he said. “We’re professional basketball players. With or without a whistle we play basketball.”
They also go into character, perhaps showing the results of acting lessons taken on the side.
A couple of summers ago, protesters marched while chanting, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” On Wednesday, whenever defenders heard another nagging shriek, they instinctively assumed the position, “Hands Up, Didn’t Foul!” On offense, it’ was “Hands Up, Where’s the Foul?”
Hardwood aficionados, both spectators and participants, have talked way too much about officials recently. Memphis coach David Fizdale was fined $30,000 Wednesday for his rant after Game 2 of the Grizzlies series against San Antonio. Refs in the NCAA tournament were excoriated throughout the three weekends.
Regardless of the competence or lack thereof, teams must adapt and adjust, no matter how bogged down a game or egregious a call. Washington did a much better job than Atlanta in Game 2, fighting through early foul trouble for Morris and Otto Porter Jr. The Wizards also got just enough help from the bench to support their “House of Guards.” Starter Bradley Beal posted 31 points to complement Wall’s 32.
It was ugly for long stretches, but the Wizards didn’t get frustrated. Beal was off for most of the night but scored 16 in the decisive fourth quarter, which opened with Atlanta holding a 78-74 lead. Backup point guard Brandon Jennings scored six points to help Washington forge a tie before Beal’s layup captured the lead for good at 96-94.
Beal said the frequent whistles helped Atlanta by slowing the Wizards’ transition game. But he accepted the blame. “We were fouling too much,” he said. “Some calls we disagreed with, but we did a good job of sticking with it.”
They stuck with it and stuck to the Hawks, turning in a defensive effort that – minus all the fouls – pleased coach Scott Brooks. Atlanta had 18 turnovers compared to Washington’s 11, and lost that battle in Game 1 as well (23-12). The Hawks are a piddling 11-for-45 (.244) from the three-point line for the series.
Brooks wants the defense to set up the offense instead of Washington simply trying to outscore opponents. He also wants everyone to understand the frustrations of dealing with The Three Whistlers when they get on everyone’s nerves.
“We all have a job to do,” he said. “It’s an emotional game with 10 competitive, athletic players competing to win. It’s a very physical, meaningful playoff game and we all care. Emotions sometimes get the best of you.”
They got the best of him when he received a technical foul late in the second quarter.
Considering the verbal abuse and chants reigning from the stands to refs, everyone in the building could’ve been T’d up. It would’ve been well worth it, especially with a win and 2-0 series lead heading to Atlanta.
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.