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Hawks get back to being Hawks in Game 4 win

WASHINGTON -- Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford drew his eyes closer to the smartphone being held in front of his face.

"These are for the whole series?"

On the screen was a catalog of the Hawks' percentages on uncontested shots from beyond 10 feet over the course of their second-round series against the Washington Wizards. As Horford craned his neck down, he scanned the totals for Game 4: 9-for-18, 50 percent, 24 points. In no previous game in the series had the Hawks topped 31 percent.

"See, we weren't going to be kept down for long," Horford said. "That just wasn't happening."

All postseason long, as the Hawks have struggled to match their silky shooting number from their 60-win regular season, Horford and Paul Millsap have insisted that the offense is largely getting what it wants. The Hawks just weren't hitting shots.

Five minutes before he got a peek at the answer key, Horford kept to his story when asked if the looks at the basket were decidedly better in the Hawks' 106-101 win on Monday night than they were in previous games.

"I think, honestly, we just hit," Horford said, then chuckled. "The looks were about the same."

Horford acknowledged that the Hawks played with better pace and moved the ball more readily in the half court, but he stood by the position he adopted more than three weeks ago after the Hawks' first sluggish performance against Brooklyn. And now a guy who looked like a denialist for the better part of three weeks was a basketball prophet.

By all accounts, the Atlanta film session between Games 3 and 4 wasn't a pleasant viewing experience. The coaching staff cued up a slew of 50-50 plays in which the Wizards were the more physical, more resolute and more willing to shove and grab with the kind of force that's just this side of a foul call.

Equalizing that discrepancy was toward the top of a long to-do list the Hawks unfurled when they arrived at Verizon Center on Monday night. Also up there: Get Kyle Korver going or, absent that, leverage the substantial attention the sharpshooter was drawing from the Washington defense.

In Game 4, Korver recorded the same number of field-goal attempts as he did assists, but the Hawks finally made the Wizards pay for all the grabby coverage and the second bodies meeting him on the other side of the curls, pindowns and flare screens that provide kindling for his fire.

"I couldn't care less," Korver said of getting up only four shots in 36 minutes. "Our team scored 106 points. So if guys are hugged up on me and it's creating a driving lane, I'm totally, totally fine with that. I want the team to do well when I'm on the floor. Some nights that involves me getting some looks, and sometimes it doesn't."

For good stretches on Monday night, those driving lanes looked like the autobahn for Atlanta. The Hawks penetrated eagerly from the opening tip, generating a ton of offense from pressuring the Wizards inside. Point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder ambushed the defense early in possessions without even waiting for a screen. When help came from the baseline, they willingly dished to an open big man. And they were lethal in transition.

"That's how we want to play," Millsap said. "We want to play inside-out. We want to attack, get to the free-throw line. And if the 3-point shot is there, we take it."

Millsap found himself in foul trouble early in the third quarter, which triggered several contingencies for coach Mike Budenholzer. Second-year big man Mike Muscala -- he of the game-tying 3-pointer in Game 3 -- saw more meaningful minutes than previously. In addition, Teague and Schroder shared the backcourt for more time than they have all postseason. This allowed the Hawks to double-down on their incursion into the paint.

"It's tough for teams because we can both get into the lane," Teague said. "We're both really fast with the ball. He can create for others. I can create for others."

This was no means a flawless victory for Atlanta. Schroder paid some dividends, but he was a mess in the fourth quarter and frittered away a key possession with the Hawks leading by three in the final minute. Not one other Hawk touched the ball and Schroder's wild driving attempt was blocked by Bradley Beal.

This naturally set up Paul Pierce to play the role of Paul Pierce with the Wizards down a possession.

"I was in there tonight," said DeMarre Carroll, the Hawks' best wing defender, who wasn't on the floor when Pierce hit the game-winner on Saturday. "Did you see that screen?"

Carroll was referring to the pancake job Nene Hilario administered to get Pierce free of Carroll.

"Hard. He knocked me on my hip," Carroll said.

With Carroll taken out of the play, Pierce had all day to collect the pass from Otto Porter on the sideline, rise and shoot. This was infinitely more daylight than Pierce had on Saturday night over two defenders. Carroll staggered to his feet from his pasting, then stumbled again at Pierce's feet after the release.

The shot missed.

"I got that contest, though," Carroll said. "That little contest you could see it."

As he sat in front of his locker, Carroll held his smile for a moment just to see if anyone would call him on his version of events.

Cue laughter, from both Carroll and his audience of two. Nobody was buying it.

Such is the fickleness of basketball. A locker room that was a morgue after a well-defended dagger ripped through the Hawks' gut two nights earlier, was safe for a laugh after Pierce's far cleaner look clanked off the rim to tie the series at 2-2.

In a sense, the Hawks were able to find themselves in the Game 4 win. Self-awareness is an essential trait in springtime basketball, and too often this postseason, the Hawks have had to sit through those film sessions in search of themselves. On Monday night, they found a resemblance.

"I don't think we're going to out-physical them," Millsap said while addressing the matchup between the front lines. "Al and I have strived all year off of playing smart, feeding off each other, and making teams play for their aggression. We felt like we got back to that tonight.

"We got smarter."