It was a tale of two halves for the Indiana Pacers, who overcame a 19-point third quarter deficit to not only beat the Washington Wizards 95-92, but to sweep them in Washington and take a commanding 3-1 series lead heading back to Indianapolis. It was Indiana's third straight win after falling into an 0-1 hole, their fifth win in their last six games, and their fourth road win of the postseason in five tries.
The Pacers started the game hot, hitting eight of their first 10 shots, but as well as Indiana was playing, they had to contend with an energetic and sharpshooting Wizards team. Paul George had 11 first quarter points and George Hill had nine, but it proved just enough to keep Indiana afloat as Washington took a 26-24 lead with a minute remaining in the quarter. Lance Stephenson hit a three to give Indiana a 27-26 advantage after one, their first first quarter victory of the season.
Things looked good for the Pacers in the first quarter despite the heavy reliance on George and Hill, as well as the fact the Wizards were in a groove offensively. But any good will from that quarter was quickly dashed when the Pacers went ice cold in the second quarter, Washington's bench unit fueling a 12-0 run to put Washington in a double figure lead. Indiana had five turnovers in the opening four and a half minutes of the quarter, while missing their first five shots.
The Pacers finally hit the scoreboard on a tough C.J. Watson jumper and a second Stephenson three would trim Washington's 11 point lead to six. But a three point play from Andre Miller and a three pointer from Bradley Beal quickly doubled the Washington advantage with Indiana missing free throws, stumbling to an 11 point quarter as Washington's lead was 17 at the break.
Indiana not only lacked energy on offense, but lazy passing and great anticipation by the Wizards turned into numerous steals and blocked shots that Washington used to run. The Wizards outscored Indiana 18-0 in the first half in fast break points all while shooting 54.8%, giving Washington a 55-38 lead heading into the second half. Nene pushed the lead to 19 out of the half and despite early pushes from David West and Stephenson, the Wizards had responses for everything Indiana was throwing at them, Beal's three point shooting put Washington ahead 62-44.
George got four points the hard way after he missed the second end of a trip to the line, the Pacers rebounded, George hitting a follow-up three. The Pacers continued to push, but couldn't get a real dent in the Wizards lead as a Nene layup put the Wizards ahead 70-56. From there, Roy Hibbert woke up, carrying the offensive load, scoring nine points as part of a 15-2 run to close the quarter, putting Indiana behind 72-71 heading into the fourth.
George would tie the game early in the fourth with a three point play notching the game at 74-74, but Washington's bench was fantastic tonight all while Indiana's was beyond awful. The Wizards ran off nine straight and 11 of 13 in the following three minutes to jump ahead by nine, gaining back control of the game thanks to their veteran bench unit.
But at every juncture in the second half, Paul George was there, making big plays to push Indiana back into the game. He hit back to back threes to cut the lead to three, a missed four point play set up a huge John Wall three to double the lead back to six at 88-82 with under five minutes remaining. The Pacers as a team struggled early from the free throw line, but it was their free throw shooting late that helped them climb back in the game.
Eight of Indiana's next ten points came at the line, as they chipped away at Washington's lead by forcing tough shots and turnovers. The Pacers used an 8-1 one to take a 90-89 lead, but Wall would head to the line to put Washington back in the lead. A pair of free throws from George would give the Pacers a 92-91 lead, and Indiana would eventually come up with a stop despite giving up a pair of offensive rebounds on the following possession.
Stephenson found Hibbert on the next possession, who hit a 12-footer to give Indiana a 94-91 lead with one minute remaining. Nene missed a layup at the basket, and the ball wound up at the three point arc in a wide open Wall's hands. Wall passed up the shot to find Beal, who missed the three. On the following possession, a late cut by Stephenson threw Hill, who turned the ball over and a Wizards miss was eventually corralled by Stephenson, who threw it away trying a jump pass to George.
Beal came up with the ball and was fouled by George. Beal split his trip with nine seconds remaining, and on the other side, Hill would split his to make it a 95-92 game. Trevor Ariza's in bound pass to Beal went too wide right as George ran it down to force the turnover, helping to seal Indiana's victory. It was an exhilarating comeback from the Pacers, who were guided all the way by George and Hibbert.
Paul George had a career best 39 points on 12-20 shooting and 7-10 from the three point arc. George played 46 minutes, the entire second half, staying on Bradley Beal, who had a team high 20 points. George also had 12 rebounds and two steals, scoring 28 second half points as he led Indiana back into the game. If there's one immense positive to take from tonight's win, it's that George came through in a big way in a crucial swing game.
Tonight's win sets up an elimination game on Tuesday for the Pacers at home, which is a far better alternative compared to being guaranteed another trip to Washington. Indiana has pushed Washington to the brink, and it was their best player who got them there. George did get plenty of help from Roy Hibbert, who had a big second half himself, scoring 15 of his 17 points after the break, coming alive as Indiana climbed back in the third quarter.
Hibbert had 17 points and nine rebounds (five offensive), with a pair of blocks. Hibbert has proven to be a monumental swing in this series, but it's not a real surprise. When he plays well, the Pacers play well and if the Pacers are going to get where they want to go, they need Hibbert to continue this current, incredibly positive trend. He's reached double figures in four of the last five games, helping Indiana win the rebounding battle for the first time this series, as well on the offensive glass.
David West had some big shots in the third quarter as part of his 14, but he continues to struggle at just 5-12. He made impacts elsewhere with eight assists. George Hill was fantastic again not only in being active offensively (12 points), but in really limiting the effectiveness of John Wall who had 12 points on 4-11 shooting with five more turnovers. Speaking of turnovers, Lance Stephenson had six in another poor game from him, though his six assists and first half threes were nice boosts for the Pacers, who are still in need of better consistency from Stephenson moving forward.
While George and Hibbert were fantastic in the second half, so too was Indiana's defense. The Wizards torched Indiana in the transition game in the first half, winning 18-0, but it was Indiana that won fast break points in the second half at just 2-0. Not all was good in Pacers land even aside from their pitiful second quarter play. Indiana had 20 turnovers on the night, leading to 22 Washington points.
They also shot the ball poorly from the line at 19-29, though they rebounded nicely from an even worse start, when they were 6-14. And as well as George and Hibbert played, they merely covered up what was a horrific night from the bench. Watson's jumper in the second quarter was Indiana's only bench points of the night. Meanwhile, the Wizards got almost everything they needed from their crafty old vet lineup of Andre Miller, Drew Gooden, and Al Harrington, who helped Washington to 32 bench points.
Not only was the bench bad offensively, but they were a sieve defensively. Luis Scola and Evan Turner not only helped the Pacers to their awful second quarter, but their return in the fourth coincided with Washington's 9-0 run to break the tie in the fourth. Their poor play and combined 1-9 shooting with two assists and five turnovers put much more weight on the starters, who all played 37 minutes plus, including 39 minutes from Hibbert and 44 from West. It's going to be difficult relying on such a heavy workload from the Pacers, who keep hoping for something consistent from the bench.
In the meantime, the good outweighed the bad as Indiana got what really mattered: the win. As mentioned, it puts Indiana ahead in the series 3-1 with a chance to close out the series at home on Tuesday night. The Wizards are in an incredibly difficult position after coming away with no wins in their two game home stand. The youth and inexperience of their best players shined through their bench unit's ability to carry the team just enough.
History is against the Wizards in their quest to make a rare 1-3 comeback as only eight teams have made the trek successfully. The series victory is still not guaranteed for Indiana, but they made huge strides in the last two games to get it there.