From the opening tip the pace of the game was in Indiana’s favor. Roy Hibbert got going, as the Pacers fed him the ball on the first two possessions, resulting in five points. The tone was set. The Wizards would answer the bell for much of the game, but they fell in Indiana’s trap, playing Indiana’s ball.
In their first series, the Wizards avoided getting into Chicago’s trap of playing a slowed down, grind-it-out style of play for much of the series. Wednesday, they fell for it against the Pacers. As a result, they were held to 82 points, well below their season average of 100.7.
Hibbert pounded the paint for 28 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks — his best performance of the season. The Wizards were held to just one fast break point. Trevor Ariza and John Wall, two guys that have carried the Wizards’ offense in early quarters much of regular season and playoffs were held to six points each, and combined for 4 of 21 shooting. Yet, the Wizards still held a 77-74 lead with just over five minutes to play.
A mixture of questionable decision-making and shots not falling, ultimately led to victory slipping out of their hands.
Bradley Beal came off a pick-n-roll and threw the ball behind him with a defender trailing, leading to a Paul George steal and a layup by Lance Stephenson.
On the next possession they tried to work Nene one-on-one with David West, instead Nene took a tough shot that missed its mark. Indiana got the rebound and George made it happen with a tough baseline jumper. Just like that Indiana had a 6-0 run and regained the lead at 80-77. After a Gortat basket, George was able to get past Ariza for a thunderous dunk that put Indiana up 82-79.
From that point on the Wizards got fixated on trying to tie the game with a quick-hit three pointer.
A bad possession where guys stood around for nearly 22 seconds of the shot clock, forcing Beal to shoot an off-balance jumper as the shot clock expired. Gortat was able to tip the ball back out to Wall. Instead of resetting the offense with over two minutes to play and a new 24-second shot clock, Wall inexplicably took a deep three pointer, missing badly.
Still the Wizards played good defense and got another chance. Beal missed a three pointer. Again, the Wizards played good defense and got the ball back in transition. Yet, they chose to put up a three, again by Wall.
That shot wasn’t so bad, it’s a shot the Wizards have made countless times this season. The issue was the start of possession. Ariza grabbed the rebound and brought the ball up the court Wall broke to the wing, while Beal ran to the top. It was the heat of the moment, but ideally Beal should’ve held the ball because the break wasn’t there. Instead Beal made the pass to the waiting Wall, who threw up a three with three Pacers in the paint and only Nene down there for the Wizards.
Yet again, the Wizards made the stop on the defensive end, and had a chance. This time guys stayed at the three-point line, Wall had an opening to drive on George Hill; instead he got weak side help, adjusting Wall right into a block by Hill, sealing their fate, and putting a stamp on the Pacers 86-82 win to tie the Eastern Conference semifinal series at 1-1.
While Wall took the blunt of the blame, saying he felt he “lost the game” for his team, he did add he missed some “good shots”, and would take those shots “all over again” given the situation.
A stretch of bad possessions due to not so great decision-making, still, head coach Randy Wittman didn’t fault his guys for the shots.
“I can’t fault their desire in doing what they were trying to do”, Wittman said. “That’s just something you learn in the course of playing in these situations, and I think we’ll handle it better next time”.
Hopefully so, because for the Wizards to win this series they’ll need Wall (and Beal) to make sound decisions down the stretch just like they did against Chicago.