“To clarify what went on last night, me and Coach discussed the situation and we discussed the sub, and we felt like that was the best group at the time,” Carroll said. “I hadn’t played for a quarter and a half. That’s what we felt.”
On Saturday, when asked if he was surprised he wasn’t on the floor for the closing possession that ended with Paul Pierce‘s game-winning jumper at the buzzer, Carroll attributed his absence on the final play to physical discomfort.
“Coach did put me in, but I didn’t feel comfortable at the time, so I’ll take that one,” Carroll said Saturday. “I should’ve been in the game. I didn’t feel comfortable as far as physically.”
Pierce was ultimately guarded by Dennis Schroder on the play. The Hawks backup point guard drew Pierce on a switch when Kyle Korver, who initially drew the assignment of covering the 17-year veteran, was screened hard by Wizards guard Will Bynum.
Carroll is regarded as the Hawks’ best perimeter defender and is often assigned to the opponent’s most lethal wing scorer. He has earned the nickname “Junkyard Dog” for his gritty style of play, and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has routinely praised Carroll for his activity on both ends of the floor. Carroll had been inserted into the game on the previous defensive possession with the Hawks trailing by one with 23 seconds remaining.
“I know a lot of people are going to say a lot of things because I’m supposed to be the top defender on the team, but I guess y’all can talk to Coach and he can answer the rest of the questions,” Carroll said. “Me, personally, I have a lot of faith in my guys. We have a lot of good defenders on this team. That’s the beauty of this team: We’re not selfish.”
Budenholzer defended his decision Sunday and echoed Carroll’s account of the decision.
“We went with the group that gave us the best chance to get a stop. That’s the decision,” Budenholzer said. “Obviously, Paul Pierce made a heckuva shot, made a tough shot. We always go with the group that gives us our best chance.”
The aforementioned group was Schroder, Shelvin Mack, Korver, Kent Bazemore and Mike Muscala. All five players were on the floor for at least half of the Hawks’ furious 25-5 rally over the final seven minutes of the game that culminated in a game-tying 3-pointer by Muscala with 14 seconds left.
“Considering [Carroll] hadn’t played the whole fourth quarter — I think he went in for a possession — again, there’s a timeout,” Budenholzer said. “You talk. You discuss. And you have to make decisions.
“I think sometimes we take players out of the game who don’t want to come out, and sometimes we probably put players in that want to go in. Coaches have to make decisions, and that’s part of the game.”
Pressed about whether it was fair to characterize Carroll as the team’s best wing defender, Budenholzer conceded as much.
“Of course DeMarre is our best wing defender, but considering he hadn’t played the entire fourth quarter, there’s lots of things that go into making decisions, so you evaluate, you listen, and you make a decision. That’s what coaches do.”
In addition to his defense on the wing, Carroll has been the Hawks’ most productive contributor in the postseason, averaging 18.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists with a true shooting percentage of 67 percent in Atlanta’s nine playoff games.
The Hawks will look to tie the series with a win in Game 4 on Monday night in Washington.
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