ATLANTA | In a year when the geezers are coming up big in the NBA playoffs, add another one to the list.
Jose Calderon might be the most unlikely of all.
The 35-year-old Spaniard, picked up on waivers late in the season, made a huge contribution to help the Atlanta Hawks pull away from the Washington Wizards 111-101 on Monday night, evening the opening-round series at 2-all.
Answering the call when Denis Schroder got in early foul trouble, Calderon played 20 minutes, scored 10 points and dished out five assists. He joined some old-timers such as Utah’s Joe Johnson and Houston’s Nene making significant contributions in the postseason .
Afterward, Calderon sat alongside Dwight Howard at the postgame news conference, a sign of the major role they both played.
That’s to be expected from Howard, an eight-time All-Star who finally showed up in the series.
Not so much from Calderon, whose hair is thinning on top.
“I always think I’m going to be on the podium,” he quipped, actually managing to hold back a smile for a second or two. “Just stay ready.”
Howard had his best game of the postseason, putting up a double-double by halftime and finishing with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Paul Millsap bounced back from a sluggish start to score 19 points. And Schroder, after going scoreless in a first half spent largely on the bench, managed to put up 18 points.
The Hawks had seven players in double figures, also getting a huge contribution off the bench from Kent Bazemore, who had 16 points and doled out seven assists.
But Calderon was the one who really made a difference. The Hawks outscored the Wizards by 29 points when he was on the court.
“He came in, played well, took care of the game,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s just a winner. He makes winning basketball plays for whatever team he’s been on.”
Bradley Beal scored 32 points for Washington, bouncing back from a dismal performance in Game 3, and John Wall had another stellar performance with 22 points and 10 assists.
Those two, as good as they were, couldn’t match a more balanced approach by the Hawks.
Now, a series marked by ill feelings that went so far as Markieff Morris calling Millsap “a crybaby” is down to a best-of-three. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Washington.
“We’ve got home court for a reason,” Wall said. “It’s an opportunity for us to go home, take care of what we need to do and come back here on Friday.”
Millsap and Schroder helped the Hawks pull away down the stretch.
After snatching an offensive rebound, Millsap managed to get the shot off while being knocked on his backside, the ball dropped in, and he added the free throw for a 3-point play . Schroder followed with a 3-pointer, giving the Hawks a 103-93 lead with 4½ minutes to go.
Of course, it helped that Howard finally made an appearance in the series .
Having taken only 15 shots and scored 18 points in the first three games, he carried the load with Millsap struggling in the first half and Schroder watching from the bench. The enigmatic center had thunderous dunks on back-to-back possessions that really got the home crowd into the game.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Millsap said the shot he made while falling backward was no accident.
He worked on it when he was a youngster in Louisiana.
“For all the kids out there, man, you’ve got to practice that in the backyard,” Millsap said. “Growing up, at my grandma’s house, we played on dirt. We used to shoot fall-away shots like that all the time. Practice those shots. There is a place for those shots.”
TALK THE TALK
Morris has stirred up plenty of headlines talking about his duel with Millsap.
The Wizards power forward failed to back up his bravado on the court.
Morris got into foul trouble and was held to nine points on 3-of-10 shooting, along with four rebounds.
“The stats say that he hasn’t shot the ball well, but he hasn’t had a rhythm,” Brooks said. “He’ll bounce back. We have confidence in how he plays and how he plays for us. We expect him to have a better game in a couple of nights.”
Wizards: Otto Porter Jr. was able to play after leaving Game 3 with a strained neck. He scored 13 points. … Bojan Bogdanovic was the only other Washington player in double figures, also with 13 points. …Marcin Gortat had 18 rebounds.
Hawks: With 11 points, Taurean Prince became the first Hawks rookie to reach double-figures in his first four playoff games since Pete Maravich did it in five straight in 1971. … Among those in the crowd: Hall of Famer Julius Erving, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and at least three members of the Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .
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