The Indiana Pacers put themselves in great shape in tonight's Game 6 against the Washington Wizards, controlling the game with their offense in the first half. The Pacers shot just under 59% for the half, scoring 52 points and getting nearly half of those in the paint, scoring 24. It was Lance Stephenson's coming out party for the series, attacking the paint and helping Indiana slowly and methodically build their first half lead into double figures.
Indiana jumped up by as many as 16 points in the third quarter, and even as the Wizards fought back with an 11-2 run to trim the lead to seven. Even still, the Pacers were undeterred, doubling up the lead again on an 11-4 run of their own. But at some point, it had to be a reminder that things haven't come easy for the Indiana Pacers since the All-Star Break. Why start now?
After leading 69-55 just past the 4:00 mark of the third quarter, the Pacers seemed to get complacent. Bad shots and terrible decisions gave life to the Wizards, and West not only halted an 8-0 Wizards run to close the quarter, but recognizing the importance of the game, dug into Paul George for a particularly bad pass that eventually cut the lead to 10.
West, along with Stephenson, were the offensive catalysts for the Pacers all night, making their brief rest to start the fourth a problematic one. Washington scored eight of the next ten points as Indiana's 14 point lead was trimmed all the way down to two. Out of the timeout, a Pacers miss and Roy Hibbert's inability to hold onto an offensive rebound set up Bradley Beal for a transition three that put Washington ahead 74-73 with 8:30 remaining in the game.
From that point on, the Pacers clamped down on the Wizards, going up five on a 6-0 run. Following a Marcin Gortat layup, the Pacers scored the next 11 to finish off a 17-2 run that put Indiana on top 90-76 with just over a minute to go. In that stretch, the Wizards were 1-10 from the field with four turnovers, which turned into five Pacers points. Indiana's defense to close the game was active and spirited, as Indiana went on to win 93-80 to clinch the 4-2 series victory.
David West had 18 second half points as part of his game high 29 to lead Indiana to the Game 6 victory. Throughout the season, West has been the calming force for the Pacers offensively and tonight he was everything Indiana needed to push through for the win. West stopped runs, weathered storms, chewed out teammates, and regained leads. Given the team's overall performance in Game 5 to West's demeanor on the floor tonight, it's clear no one recognizes the moment more than West does right now.
It didn't hurt West's case to get help from Lance Stephenson, who broke out of his series long slump with 17 points on 8-13 shooting. Stephenson hit all eight of his field goals in the paint, barreling into the paint to not only score, but to create opportunities for his teammates with eight assists on the night. And while all five starters reached double figures, it was more impressive to see how they worked on the glass.
The Pacers lost the rebounding battle 40-38, but after the 62-23 nightmare in Game 5, the outcome was much more in line with the overall series than the historic outlier Indiana found themselves a part of. West was the only player on Tuesday to grab more than five rebounds, but in tonight's game, all five starters reached five rebounds, with Roy Hibbert leading the way with seven.
Hibbert was fantastic early, scoring nine first half points. While he was much quieter on the offensive end in the second half, he was still able to make a difference thanks to his rebounding, coming up with three blocks on the night. George Hill was also fantastic, stepping up against John Wall, who was just 5-19 for 12 points tonight. Hill had 11 points and six rebounds.
Paul George was just 4-11 tonight for 12 points, but remained a key defensively against Bradley Beal, who despite a few sharp looks, was just 7-19 shooting, scoring 16 points, not once getting to the line. Beal had both of Washington's three point field goals, as they slumped towards a 2-18 night from behind the arc, only slightly worse than Indiana's own 2-10 performance.
The bench was a key part of Indiana's success in the first half, as they pushed the Pacers' lead into double figures in the second quarter, scoring 10 straight points after leading by just four. Heading into the fourth quarter, however, they gave most of it back, allowing an eight point lead to shrink to just two. Ian Mahinmi led with five points as part of a 13-12 bench victory.
And so, despite all of the ups and downs of the past 10 weeks, the Indiana Pacers are back in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year. As was expected, they'll have their third straight series with none other than the Miami Heat. The Pacers may have had a "historic collapse" down the stretch of the regular season. They may have shown utter disregard for home court advantage after spending all season trying to reach it, but all of Indiana's woes matters little now.
What's important is that Indiana is back in the NBA's final four for the eighth time since 1994. They're right where they expected themselves to be with the home court advantage they hope will be the trump card to defeating the Heat and moving onto the NBA Finals for the first time since 2000. Game 1 between the Pacers and Heat will tip off at 3:30 ET on ABC and at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.