Once again comes the time to mention that the Indiana Pacers spent 82 games trying to secure home court in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, going 35-6 at home on their way to a 56-26 record just to have home court slip away in the first game of a playoff series for the second straight Game 1. It was fitting that the Washington Wizards jumped ahead of the Pacers 8-0, because that was the difference they spent all night trying to make up.
Trevor Ariza kick-started Washington's run with a pair of three pointers, the perfect response to the hopes and wishes that the Pacers wouldn't face a continued onslaught of threes as Ariza went on to drill all six of his attempts from behind the arc (a seventh attempt was somewhat mercifully ruled a two). On the night, the Wizards were a collective 10-16 from deep, which is exactly what Indiana had to deal with against Atlanta, give or take about 20 bricks along the way.
While the Wizards certainly found a few contested looks going down, Ariza's looks were largely clean, a rather maddening paradigm as Paul George continuously slacked off of Ariza in order to help on the penetration. It was one of the key advantages for the Wizards as they pushed their lead into double figures after the first quarter. The Pacers stormed back in the second, using an 11-0 run to trim the lead to two, eventually jumping ahead 31-30 on Evan Turner free throws.
The lead was short lived as Washington jumped back ahead on a 9-2 run. Indiana would climb within three, but Ariza three pointers once again pushed the Wizards on a run, closing the half on a 14-4 run to keep the lead at 13. Things didn't get much better for the Pacers; they were unable to cut into the lead in the third, and fell behind 68-52 with just over five minutes in the third.
Indiana's defense made a step forward as Washington's shooting took a step back, opening a 10-0 Pacers run, to trim the lead to six. But a pair of missed free throws from Luis Scola and an open corner jumper that missed failed to draw Indiana any closer. Washington used a 6-0 run to open the fourth to double the lead, forcing the Pacers into another double digit hole.
In the fourth, the Pacers couldn't close the gap, an inability to get stops, coupled with an inability to draw in offensive rebounds doomed Indiana. The Wizards had eight offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter. Is there anything else to really say about that? Bradley Beal pitched in with 14 fourth quarter points as part of his game high 25, as all five Wizards starters reached double figures.
Indiana was waxed on the glass by 17, which was the same number of offensive rebounds Washington pulled in. Drew Gooden and Marcin Gortat combined for 13 of the 17, with Gooden bringing in seven on his own. Gooden, who had two points and three rebounds in the entire series against Chicago, had 12 points and 13 rebounds tonight.
A late flurry of threes for the Pacers helped close the gap to six as the Pacers fell 102-96 in Game 1. The loss pushes them into their second 0-1 hole of this postseason, and their second series losing home court advantage in the first game. Generally, there'd be enough room for optimism looking at what Washington did; there's enough faith that Gooden and Ariza will come down from such dizzying heights and that even better scoring from John Wall will be easier to weather than 35 points from Gooden and Ariza.
It's all well and good to look at what Washington likely won't do moving forward, but what can the Pacers actually do themselves to counter it consistently? Regardless of what other teams do, the Pacers keep doing the same things again and again. They keep coming out flat, they keep failing to run an offense, they keep getting nothing but fouls from their centers, they keep having to rely on bad shots, slow offense, one-on-one basketball, and out of sync defense.
The optimistic side of everything looks at how Washington played and sees that this series is still well within reach, but where's the optimism in Indiana? They may come out in Game 2 with much better energy, but why do they need to constantly have their backs to the wall in order to play well? No one looked particularly good tonight. Paul George was excellent at getting to the line (9-9) to make up or his defensive lapses on Ariza and his 4-17 shooting night.
George Hill finally hit some threes in garbage time that can hopefully carry over and David West pulled in 12 rebounds despite not doing a great job preventing rebounds for the Wizards. Lance Stephenson was out of sorts all night, turning it over four times and shooting just 4-13. Luis Scola played good, but not great in his return to game action, scoring 12 off the bench, but leaving so much offense on the floor.
But it's Roy Hibbert's continued lack of involvement on the floor that's the single biggest problem for this team. Hibbert had zero points and zero rebounds, and it's great to pile on him as Tracy McGrady and Gilbert Arenas did tonight, but there isn't a player on the Pacers that's more important to their success in this series than Hibbert. After all, what's worse than Hibbert not playing well? That the Pacers need him to play well.
Indiana will tip Game 2 on Wednesday in Indianapolis in an effort to tie the series up 1-1 before going to Washington for a pair. The loss tonight doesn't stick a fork in Indiana's season by any means, but it's becoming more and more difficult with every loss to believe this team is ever going to find a competent level of consistency. Perhaps the worst thing about this team's collapse is that we have to keep watching. But a win on Wednesday will also bring out the best part about this team's collapse: that they won't let it end.