BY STEPHEN WHYNO
WASHINGTON (AP) — Atlanta forward Paul Millsap got a taste Sunday of what the Washington Wizards have planned for him in their first-round playoff series.
Now he’s promising to dish it back.
Markieff Morris told Millsap to shut up during Game 1, escalating a physical showdown between the power forwards. Morris and Millsap exchanged heated words before the teams retreated to their locker rooms at halftime, and more fireworks could be coming in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
Millsap took issue with the way Morris and the Wizards tried to overpower him in the Hawks’ 114-107 loss.
“The difference in the game is we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA,” Millsap said.
Frustrating Millsap is part of the plan for Washington. Two years ago, the Hawks and their 6-foot-8 forward beat a banged-up Wizards team in a six-game second-round series. Morris wasn’t with Washington then, though, and his matchup with Millsap could be the difference this time around.
“When you’re guarding an All-Star, all you have to do is focus on just making him take tough shots,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. Markieff is “a very competitive guy. He’s the most mild-mannered person that I’ve been around that has a competitive spirit. He challenges himself to play against an All-Star player like Millsap. It’s not easy.”
Morris scored 21 points in his NBA playoff debut and limited Millsap to just 19. He doesn’t plan to ease up on Millsap any time soon.
“If we’re going to jostle the whole series,” the 6-foot-10 Morris said, “then that’s what it’s going to be.”
All that scrambling inside could create more tension like Sunday’s altercation. Millsap channeled Rasheed Wallace — “It was just two guys playing hard, man, it was two guys playing hard” — but Morris didn’t shy away from initiating the chirping.
“It’s all a part of the game, man,” Morris said. “It’s all love of the game. I trash talk all the time.”
It’s not the talk that bothered Millsap, though. The four-time All-Star said he wanted to “get some moves” to fit the MMA playing style and vowed to match the Wizards’ and Morris’ physicality going forward.
“I just got to be more aggressive,” Millsap said. “I can’t let (anybody) come out here and just push me around. He was more physical than me (Sunday), and if that’s how we’re going to play, then that’s how we’re going to play, and I’ve got to do a better job at that.”
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said Millsap and center Dwight Howard can be better inside than they were in Game 1. Some of that is self-inflicted, but Morris also presents a matchup nightmare that Wall knew was possible when the Wizards traded a first-round pick for the power forward at the 2016 trade deadline.
“He changed everything right away for us,” Wall said. “We didn’t have to double team in the post anymore. If any team had a 4-man that could score, we could go right back to him and he can score on the perimeter and score in the post. He changed our team a whole lot, and he understands that. … He’s doing everything to help our team win, and when he’s playing as well as he did today for us, we’re unstoppable.”
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