This season’s meetings between the Capitals and Super Hawks have had a certain competitiveness and feel to them. Aside from the first meeting of the season, each has been decided by a single possession.
And on Sunday, in game two of the second round, the Capitals, facing elimination and the end to their season, held on at home in another one possession game to win 137-134 and force a game three on Tuesday.
The Capitals led by as much as 19 early in the second quarter, but the Super Hawks stormed back.
It was a similar story to Thursday’s game one in Seattle. Almost eerily similar.
The Capitals led by 10 at the end of the first quarter in both games, and had that lead trimmed down to four heading into halftime.
Seeing a near replay of Thursday’s collapse, head coach Kevin Johnson Jr. and the Capitals couldn’t help but notice the similarities.
“It was like deja vu,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the day, what’s most important is that we stayed together as a team and we won the game.
Allen Billinger Jr. echoed his coach’s sentiments. And luckily for Johnson and the Capitals, Billinger’s game didn’t look like Thursday.
In the game one loss, Billinger seemed to struggle, scoring just nine points as the Capitals leading scorer on the season went 3-for-10 from the field.
On Sunday, Billinger nearly matched his game one total in the first quarter. He scored eight in the quarter, including the game’s first points.
“My confidence has always been there, it was one game, we played about 25 of them pretty consistent,” Billinger said. “So it wasn’t the fact that it was one game. I was upset, but my teammates got my back and I knew we could come out today with the high energy, same as we had Thursday and that was that, we got the win.”
Billinger finished with 21 points, going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, an area that has become more and more vital for the Capitals’ offense, which has a clear lack of size.
On Sunday, the Super Hawks dominated the Capitals inside, scoring 72 points in the paint to the Capitals’ 28. Through three games in the postseason, the Capitals have been outscored in the paint 216-102, and have allowed at least 70 points inside in each game.
And to make up for that lack of size the Capitals have flourished from beyond the arc. They’ve made 21 more 3s than the Super Hawks through the first two games, 36-15, and outshot the Volcanoes 16-7 in the first round.
Seven Capitals made multiple 3-pointers on Sunday as they shot 57% as a team.
“I got some dogs, so I’ll take my dogs over any of these other teams all day long,” Johnson said. “We went out there and, no matter who’s on the court, they can eject somebody, we can have not enough players on the roster, we’ll still have a chance every time. Because everybody on my bench is ready to play when their turn is called, next man up.”
That ejection Johnson talked about was for Isaiah Gentry. In game one, Gentry had a game-high 31 points. On Sunday, Gentry’s day finished with 17 points and two technical fouls, the second coming in the final minutes of the third quarter on a double technical call with him and Seattle’s Trevion Brown.
Gentry and Brown had words for each other following a defensive foul by Brown, and it was enough for the official to give the double tech, sending Gentry off.
Johnson was also whistled for a technical foul as things were sorted.
The Super Hawks chose Jameel Tolbert to shoot the free throws in Gentry’s place. Tolbert hadn’t played a minute to that point, but knocked down both free throws, extending the lead to 94-84.
The Capitals cashed in from the line going 35-40. They only shot eight in the first half, as the Super Hawks didn’t commit their first team foul until more than halfway through the first quarter. But in the second half the Capitals forced the issue, continued driving to the basket and getting themselves to the line.
The Super Hawks doubled the Capitals’ free throws in the first half, 16-8, but Salem finished with seven more attempts from the charity stripe than Seattle.
The win sets up a deciding game three in Seattle on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
“We’re going into the game with the same mindset we had Thursday,” Billinger said. “Same mindset we had today. That’s to play hard, play with effort and come home with the victory. That’s all it is. Simple as that.”