Only one team treated tonight's game as a must win and the scoreboard didn't lie in reflecting it. The Washington Wizards, facing elimination, played and fought harder than the Indiana Pacers, coming away with a huge 102-79 victory to keep their season alive. For the Pacers, it was clear that while they said the right things, they didn't believe this game was important. If they did, they sure did a bad job of proving it.
Despite keeping pace with Washington early thanks to shots going for Roy Hibbert, Paul George, and Lance Stephenson, the game plan for the Wizards was already in motion when it came to just controlling the game from the boards. Indiana cut an eight point deficit to six to trail 25-19, but still got worked on the glass 17-6 in the quarter.
While the rebounding edge only got worse, Indiana did open the third on a 13-3 run to take a 32-28 lead. It was short lived, however as the Wizards ran off eight straight as part of a 17-3 run that opened the game up for Washington, who led by 10 with David West cutting the lead to seven with a corner three. For as bad as things were in the first half, they were still well within striking distance, with West trimming the lead to five to open the third.
At that point, Indiana's poor hustle and lack of rebounding effort began to snowball downhill, with the Wizards opening the game up on a 31-14 third quarter. John Wall and Marcin Gortat combined for 29 of those points with Wall scoring 17 of his 29 in the quarter. Among the really bad things to come from tonight's game, giving a glimmer of hope for Wall moving forward may be the worst thing moving forward. The last thing Indiana needs pushing the series forward is to have to contend with him playing well.
As for everything else, the Wizards just rolled Indiana in the second half, outscoring them 57-41 in the second half, which is actually quite merciful considering the Pacers trailed by as many as 30. After three quarters, the Wizards held Indiana to 15 rebounds. The Pacers had 23 rebounds on the night, while allowing 62 to the Wizards. The Pacers wound up -39 on the glass in a game that got pushed forward because of the rebounding.
The Pacers as a whole looked as if they were expecting a demoralized Wizards team ready to roll over, expecting to flip their switch if the going got tough. But they weren't prepared to be taken out of the game on every missed shot. They weren't prepared to outwork the Wizards on the glass, and the end result was the 102-79 loss and the -39 rebounding edge.
It's completely fair to say Washington held Indiana to 23 rebounds on the night. The energy of the Wizards to fight for every single miss was something Indiana wasn't prepared for and for long stretches of the game, the only way Indiana got the ball back was if Washington knocked it out of bounds fighting for the rebound. Rebounding was the major issue in tonight's loss, but it was hardly the only issue.
The Pacers won the turnover battle handily, forcing 19 turnovers, but despite committing eight less turnovers than the Wizards, Indiana still couldn't capitalize, only outscoring Washington by five off of those turnovers. Indiana allowed 13 first half fast break points, and while they did a better job limiting transition points in the second half, they were fed a far more deadly dose of John Wall jumper.
Gortat and Wall combined for 58 points, which at points early in the fourth quarter, were more than the Pacers even put on the scoreboard. The Pacers shot 39%, frustrated the Pacers' offense, and quite simply outworked the Pacers in every conceivable aspect of the game. With a 3-1 series lead, the Pacers had a pair of freebies and sunk in an all-time bad performance instead of simply playing hard and moving on.
Individually, no one played well at all. David West led the way with 17 on 7-14 shooting, also grabbing a team high six boards, but was hardly effective in helping Indiana succeed in any way. Paul George was the only other scorer in double figures with 15, but was poor shooting all night, needing 15 shots to get there. Roy Hibbert started off with a pair of running hooks, but disappeared the remainder of the game with four points and two boards. George Hill was bad, shooting 1-8 and playing so far of Wall at times tonight, it was a task finding him at all.
It figures that Indiana's best stretch of the night to start the second quarter was in part due to their bench. Luis Scola had five on 2-5 shooting, hardly effective, but did make a couple of nice plays throughout his short nine minute stint. As a whole, more bench wouldn't likely have made much of a difference given the hole the Pacers fell into as the third quarter opened up.
And so, the series will extend to a Game 6, back in Washington with Indiana leading 3-2. After three straight wins, it's not a real surprise the Pacers would slip up sooner or later, but they're still well in control of the series despite heading back out on the road. The Wizards aren't likely to get 31 & 16 from Marcin Gortat again, nor are they likely to get a +39 rebounding advantage. But this postseason has proven that it only takes one good game from someone to swing the entirety of a series. Indiana did well to weather that in Game 4 when Washington's bench pushed, and they'll likely have to be in position Game 6 when the Wizards get a big game from someone else.
Despite the headscratching performances throughout the first two rounds, Indiana has still answered the call when they've needed to. They haven't lost back-to-back games this postseason and they've proven more than capable of taking their show on the road (which has proven necessary with them being 3-4 at home this postseason). But a loss Thursday, and it's yet another Game 7 the Pacers will have to take on.