Game 3 between the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards wasn't short on ugly, but through the mountain of bricks neither team was short on, the Pacers put together a beautiful defensive effort. It was Indiana in midseason form; using their defense to guide their offense. It may have taken until the third quarter for things to start taking shape, but once they did, the Pacers didn't look back.
The Wizards came out with much better energy than the Pacers, with Trevor Ariza eating up every Wizards miss in the early going. Ariza had five first quarter offensive rebounds, helping the Wizards to eight second chance points in the opening minutes as Washington jumped ahead 15-10. Indiana would take the lead on a 7-0 run before an end of quarter John Wall crossover tied the game at 17-17.
Washington scored the first five of the second quarter, moving up 27-20 on a 10-3 run. To that point, even despite an escalating frustration with overall energy and shots going, the Pacers were still well within striking distance. They responded to Washington's run with a 13-1 run of their own, six coming from Roy Hibbert, who was tremendous again tonight shooting the ball, pushing Indiana ahead by five.
Another Wall jumper cut Indiana's lead to one at the break, eventually taking a 37-36 lead early in the third. Back-to-back threes from George Hill and Paul George helped kickstart a 14-1 run Indiana would use to jump ahead 50-38. In that stretch, the Wizards were 0-4 with three turnovers while going 1-4 from the line. Things didn't get much better for Washington, while escalating turnovers competing with a Pacers offense that began to find some life.
Indiana's lead ballooned to 17, but their ball movement helped make it happen. The Pacers assisted on eight of their 10 field goals in the quarter with them taking a 60-45 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. Bradley Beal struggled mightily throughout the night, with 16 points on 6-19 shooting, but opened the fourth with a pair of big buckets.
Washington wasn't able to push the lead into single figures despite Beal scoring the first nine of the quarter for the Wizards. George helped sink in the dagger with 3:33 remaining as the Pacers pushed their lead back to 17 before opening it up further in garbage time, wrapping up a convincing, dominating 85-63 victory to take a 2-1 series advantage.
Roy Hibbert was big again tonight, scoring 14 points on 6-9 shooting. Hibbert not only made a big impact again offensively, but made a much bigger impact defensively tonight than in Game 2. Hibbert was credited with three blocks, but helped limit Washington's front line of Nene and Marcin Gortat to a combined 12 points on 5-21 shooting.
As good as Hibbert was, there was plenty of defensive praise to go around, with Paul George continuing to chase and coming up big against Bradley Beal. George's offensive game continues to slag on a 6-15 shooting night, but a 9-10 night from the line gave him a game high 23 points with eight rebounds and three steals. While George played well on Beal, George Hill continued to do an outstanding defensive job on John Wall, limiting the #1 overall pick to 15 points on 6-13 shooting, Wall turning it over seven times.
David West hit a couple of big shots late, but despite some great defensive play, continues to be out of sorts offensively, going just 6-14. Lance Stephenson as well continues to struggle with his shot, while forcing a number of terrible looks. There wasn't a typical trademark Lance moment, but even his 4-13 shooting night was less maddening than Evan Turner's 2-6 night. Turner never seemed to sync in with what Indiana was trying to do, but the bench as a whole continued to struggle in a big way (despite outscoring Washington's bench 18-8).
Luis Scola shot continued to take its regularly scheduled hiatus. Scola missed four of his first five shots for two points, though his jumper in the fourth was a key swing with Washington trying to push themselves back in the game. Scola did explode in garbage time for a couple of shots, including a three. Garbage time served Hill well in Game 1, so maybe it can do the same for Scola for Game 4.
Ian Mahinmi had half of Indiana's four offensive boards, seven overall. While he was fairly quiet, he was the best among the second unit tonight with a pair of big free throws, a steal, and a block. Free throw shooting once again played a big part in tonight's win, with Indiana shooting a less than stellar 16-21, but far better than Washington's pitiful 11-21.
While the overall swing wasn't big at just five points, Washington left so much at the line in the third quarter that it snowballed for them with their 18 turnovers and 32.9% shooting. Indiana also came around in a big way on the glass, holding the Wizards to three offensive boards in the game's final three quarters. Ariza's hustle was a huge boost for Washington, but once the Pacers adjusted, the energy and 50/50 balls went in Indiana's favor, creating their defensive showcase.
It was just a single win, but as its most dominating performance in quite some time, it could ultimately mean much more moving forward. Pacers fans have been snake bitten by this team's up and down play since the All-Star break; great comebacks and nightly excellence has been routinely followed up with giant flame outs with the minor exception of Indiana's Game 6 & 7 victories over Atlanta.
But this, seeing Hibbert continue to play and carry the team, seeing their defense at its most dominating, seeing the Pacers play hard, smart (only 10 turnovers after just nine in Game 2), and hungry, maybe there's room to believe in the Pacers again, at least in terms of this series. Game 4 will be a huge test for both teams; the Pacers looking to deliver what could be the knockout blow and the Wizards, staggered, looking to punch back in hopes of taking the series 2-2 back to Indianapolis.