On Friday night the Pacers shot 41.9 percent and didn’t crack 80 points until the closing minutes of the game. Paul George, David West and Lance Stephenson combined for a dreadful 16-for-42 from the field.
Yet, Indiana not only won the game and took a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semi-final, they extinguished Washington’s game plan like they were pissing on a cigarette butt. The Pacers’ defense was suffocating, disruptive, and without question the difference in the game, holding the Wizards to a ridiculous 63 points.
Indiana hasn’t looked this good since they were rolling in February and they’ve got Pacers fans (as well as Wizards players and coaches) wondering which team will show up tonight for game at Verizon Center.
Will they be right before they face the Heat? (or Nets)
For as good as Indiana looked Friday night, their late season slump and struggles with #8 Atlanta in round one pose serious question marks with regards to their chances of knocking off Miami and heading to the finals. (For the record, the Brooklyn Nets hit fifteen 3s last night and would be quick to remind us that they’re only down game in the series … but I digress.)
No team in the NBA had more WTF moments over the final month of the season than the Pacers. They didn’t just ‘look’ to be falling apart, they absolutely were. If it weren’t for a last-minute mini surge and a three-game skid by Miami, they’d have dropped the number one seed that they’d held for most of the season.
But here they are, up two games to one in the second round of the playoffs, seemingly having put the fear of God into the eyes of the Washington Wizards. The question we’ve got to be asking ourselves is: “Is this team fixed, or was Friday’s performance simply one more loop on the Pacers’ roller coaster?”
Momentum can be a funny thing, and so even though Paul George called it “probably the ugliest game of the post-season”, ugly is what the Pacers do best. Controlling game speed with a lockdown defensive performance and dominating on the boards has always been Indiana’s strategy and the focus of their identity. If they’ve got that identity back, watch out. The number one seed might just start playing like one.
Washington needs Wall to come up big tonight in game four.
John Wall and the Wizards looked pretty helpless in game three and their lack of playoff experience showed, but Wall is well positioned to have a breakthrough game and such a performance tonight could tie the series at two apiece.
Wall’s breakout season was 2013-14, and his ability to kick start his team on the fly is the reason that Washington won 44 games and knocked out the Bulls in round one without even scuffing their Reeboks. When he’s on, he controls games with exactly the right mix of scoring, playmaking, defense, leadership and pace.
While the Wizards ought to be worried about Indiana’s defensive resurgence, Wall was reluctant to give the Pacers’ D too much credit for Washington’s offensive let down, noting that the team had plenty of open looks but just couldn’t hit their shots.
They also missed free throws and turned the ball over like they were tossing candy from a parade float. It takes more than an unforgiving rim to be held to less than 16 points per quarter, so perhaps Wall and Co. need to work on how to beat the Indy blockade instead of imagining it’s not there.
Wall was treated for a scratch on his eye which he incurred early in the second half of game three, but he appears to be OK and is looking forward to turning the tide on Indiana in terms of controlling the pace of the game.
“It ain’t just about pushing and trying to get fast breaks,” Wall said. “It’s about putting pace into the game and getting a lot of possessions. That’s when we’re at our best.”
Roy Hibbert: Mr. Barometer
This post-season, Indiana’s success has hinged greatly on the output of their big man. In the series opener Roy Hibbert put up a double goose egg, zero points and zero rebounds. In fact, it’s the second time he tallied this stat line in the playoffs. Not surprisingly, Wizards’ post-counterpart Marcin Gortat fed off Hibbert’s poor performance and notched a double-double en route to a game one victory.
In game two Hibbert exploded for 28 points, leaving Gortat speechless in post-game interviews. “I ain’t going to talk about him,” Gortat finally said after practice Thursday. “Next question.”
Game three saw Hibbert put up solid numbers with 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Not a superstar performance, but the kind of contribution the Pacers need from the center position. If Indiana hopes to finish off the Wizards and compete moving forward, they’ll need a more consistent effort out of Hibbert.
Over the first eight games of the playoffs he scored a total of just 37 points (4.6 per start). Output at that level is simply not good enough for an All-Star, and without question the lack of production down low was a big reason why the Hawks were able to push their series to seven.
Even teammate David West called Hibbert out, saying: “He’s got to be part of the fight. He’s got to be part of this thing for us to go anywhere.”
Tonight in Washington we’ll find out if Hibbert’s up for three solid games in a row, or if John Wall and Bradley Beal can push the scoring column back up to triple digits.
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