By The Sports Xchange
ATLANTA — In a game they could not afford to lose, the Atlanta Hawks again relied on dependable Paul Millsap to carry the day.
The veteran forward had 29 points and 14 rebounds for his second straight double-double and the Hawks led wire-to-wire in beating the Washington Wizards 116-98 on Saturday in Game 3 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
Washington leads the series 2-1, with Game 4 on Monday in Atlanta. Game 5 returns to Washington on Wednesday.
“Paul was great,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He got a lot on random shots — his activity on the pick and roll, without the pick and roll, mixing up what he does.”
Millsap was 12 of 20 from the field and had five assists. His only problem was at the line, where he was 5 of 9. Millsap had 19 double-doubles during the regular season and is averaging 25 points in the playoffs.
Atlanta also got 27 points from Dennis Schroder, who is averaging 25 points in the playoffs. He scored 20 of those in the first half, and added nine assists. Rookie Taurean Prince scored 16 points.
Washington got 29 points from guard John Wall, who was 10 of 12 from the field and added seven assists and four rebounds. Wall scored 32 points in each of the first two games.
Brandon Jennings came off the bench to score 13 points. Bradley Beal, who had 31 in the second game of the series, was 6 of 20 from the field and scored 12 points. Bojan Bogdanovic added 11 points.
Equally important for Atlanta was Millsap’s ability to come up with the big bucket or key rebound that denied Washington a chance to regain the momentum.
In the third quarter, Washington had trimmed Atlanta’s lead to 13 points when Millsap took over. He answered with a step-back jump shot, found Prince for an open layup and nailed another 12-foot jumper to spark an 8-0 run.
In the fourth quarter, Washington whittled the lead to 12 points when Millsap dug in again. He had defensive rebounds on three straight possessions and converted a three-point play in a 9-0 run that put the game away.
“Defensively we made good plays,” Budenholzer said. “The activity and pace they played with offensively created a lot of opportunities. They closed it a couple of time and we responded a couple of times.”
The Hawks broke out of the gate and got three consecutive 3-pointers from Prince, Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr. to take a 13-2 lead. Atlanta continued to add to its lead, which reached 20 when Schroder’s basket made it 30-10, and the margin reached 25 when Schroder dropped in a 3-pointer to make it 38-13.
“They jumped on us and their sense of urgency was very high,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “I wouldn’t say we came our relaxed. We came out and missed some shots and we let that affect our defense.”
Washington regrouped and scored the final seven points of the quarter, capped by a last-second 3-pointer from Wall that trimmed the lead to 38-20.
The Hawks shots 65 percent from the field in the first quarter and made five 3-pointers. Washington shot 30.4 percent from the field and was 1 of 6 on 3-pointers.
“We made it a point to come out strong,” Prince said.
Wall sparked the Wizards to a second-quarter comeback and helped them get within 15 points. He finished with 21 points in the half as the Wizards closed the gap to 64-46 at intermission.
Washington cut the lead to 13 points when Wall’s jump shot made it 73-60 with 7:19 remaining. Atlanta answered with eight straight points, four of them from Millsap, to regain control. The Hawks led 90-67 after three quarters.
The Wizards made one last run in the fourth quarter. They drew within 12 when Beal scored on a tip-in to make it 93-81 with 8:09 remaining. Schroder answered with his first basket of the second half, and the Hawks scored nine straight to put the game away.
“They deserved to win,” Brooks said. “They played a good basketball game. They had a great start and played well throughout the game.”
NOTES: After shooting 86.8 percent and 82.1 percent from the line in the first two games, Atlanta made only 19 of 32 (59.4 percent) Saturday. … Atlanta’s 18-point lead at the end of the first quarter was the largest by the team since 1967. … Atlanta PG Dennis Schroder and Washington PG John Wall were each assessed a technical foul for some verbal sparring after Wall was fouled early in the third quarter. … Washington was without backup C Ian Mahinmi, who missed his second straight game with a strained left calf. Mahinmi warmed up before the game, but team officials said he would not play Monday. … Washington F Jason Smith fouled out in eight minutes.