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Wizards go up 2-0 on Hawks in NBA playoff series marred by overzealous refereeing

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Atlanta drew the third-most fouls in the league this season, and that has dominated this series.

NBA: Playoffs-Atlanta Hawks at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

When Paul Millsap said after Game 1 that the Wizards were playing MMA, not basketball, he mostly inspired jokes. But his words must have had a subliminal impact on the refereeing crew who officiated Game 2, because it was a slugfest full of a ridiculous amount of foul calls.

The Wizards hung onto the win, despite a combined 53 fouls and 71 free throws, both up from an already foul-prone Game 1. John Wall was enormous, not taking over for a six-minute stretch like he did on Sunday, but instead contributing consistently throughout the game. He finished with 32 points on 9-of-20 shooting along with nine assists and five rebounds, and his leak out dunk with less than a minute remaining helped stave off any potential Atlanta victory.

Bradley Beal provided 31 points on 27 shots, while Brandon Jennings had a key spurt off the bench, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Atlanta erased a halftime deficit by winning the third quarter 35-23, but the Wizards came back by outscoring the Hawks by 12 points in the final frame.

Paul Millsap led the way for Atlanta, and his 27 points came in part due to his 14-of-15 shooting from the free throw line. But it wasn’t just shooting fouls that clogged this game up — it was common ones that prevented the game from ever generating a decent pace or rhythm. Only four minutes into the second half, we had our first “foul trouble” graphic thrown onto the screen.

A minute later, both teams were in the penalty.

On one side, this was inevitable. The Wizards are fourth in fouls committed per game this season, while Atlanta has drawn the third-most in the league. The Hawks seek out contact, which is the biggest reason Millsap’s “MMA” comments were criticized — this is as much their doing as it is Washington’s. But on Wednesday, it became a two-sided affair, even though the Hawks committed the sixth-fewest fouls in the regular season. Wall’s 12-of-15 free throw shooting, for one, can speak at that.

Washington moves to 2-0, and that’s all the better. As a viewer, this series is highly unwatchable, and I’d be happy for it to be over in four.

Wizards fans are certainly with me, chanting “refs you suck” throughout the game and sarcastically applauding an obvious correct call like this one late in the game.

Sure, it’s neither team’s responsibility to make the series watchable — they have to do whatever they need to do in order to get the best chance at winning. But never has it been so easy to quarantine a series to NBA TV. If you have a rooting interest, you should be watching this series, but otherwise, it might be best to save yourself that extra hour.