Paul Millsap is not about to let Markieff Morris get in his head.
The Hawks veteran power forward said he’s been around too long to let a physical battle with one player become the focus of the playoff series against the Wizards.
The Wizards took Game 1 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round matchup with a 114-107 victory Sunday afternoon. The Hawks lost the game and, to a great extent, were on the receiving end of much of the physical play.
No matter what happened between Millsap and Morris — an exchange of heated words and a little more — the Hawks’ focus remains on the Wizards backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, the foundation of the franchise.
“I think it’s important that we control the other two guys, Beal and Wall,” Millsap said Monday after the Hawks’ practice on the campus of Georgetown University. “They are extensive scorers. I’m not going to turn this into a personal battle between me and Morris.
“That’s what he wants me to do, take all the focus off the team and put it on him. I’m not going to do that. I’ve been in the league too long. It’s about the team and stopping those two guys, the head of the snake which is John Wall, and we’ll give ourselves a really good chance to win.”
Wall finished with a game-high 32 points, including 15 in a decisive third quarter, to lead the Wizards. Morris scored 21 points with seven rebounds and four blocks while providing defensive presence against Millsap. Millsap finished with 19 points and two rebounds.
When asked following the game about the difference in the outcome, Millsap said “We were playing basketball. They were playing MMA (Mixed Martial Arts).”
Millsap stood by his comment on Monday and he and teammates acknowledged the Hawks need to raise their physical play. This is the playoffs after all.
“That is playoff basketball intensity,” Millsap said. “We have to step it up a notch and play that style too. If we can get out there and be that kind of aggressive, we’ll be OK.”
Center Dwight Howard, no stranger to infighting in the pivot, concurred.
“It’s fine,” Howard said. “If they allowed both teams to play as physical, I would love that. We have to continue to play no matter what happens. We can’t get involved with the refs or anything like that. We just have to focus in on what we can control. If we play hard, we should win the game.”
Prior to the series, Morris essentially called Millsap soft by advising Washington reports to refer to him as a power forward but refer to Millsap as a stretch-4. Millsap is listed at 6-feet-8 and 246 pounds while Morris is 6-10 and 245.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said he was made aware of Millsap’s postgame comment. While he believes the biggest issue for his team was its transition defense, he acknowledge the Wizards were the aggressor.
“My general thought is they were the aggressor for more of the 48 minutes than we were,” Budenholzer said. “They are probably more physical for more of the 48 minutes than we were. … Generally speaking, us being better in a lot of areas is probably more important and understanding it’s part of the playoffs. To do some degree, we have to raise our aggressiveness, our physicality, and improve in a lot of other areas.”