After two days of getting blasted in basketball circles after his 0 point, 0 rebound effort on Monday, Roy Hibbert answered the call in a big way, leading the Indiana Pacers to a crucial Game 2 victory over the Washington Wizards. Hibbert set the tone early with Indiana's first five points as part of a 7-0 run to open the game for the Pacers. Hibbert had seven in the first quarter as he helped Indiana to a 15-7 lead.
The Wizards pushed back, closing the quarter 16-8 to tie the game, Martell Webster's five points helping to push Washington into the lead at 29-25. The Pacers jumped ahead on an 8-2 run, but Indiana struggled to contain the midrange game from the Wizards in the second quarter despite 10 more points from Hibbert. Washington went 7-10 outside of the paint in the second quarter, as part of a 48% shooting first half, giving Washington a 45-43 advantage.
Washington pushed their lead to six out of the break, with quick points from Bradley Beal helping give Washington a five point lead while Lance Stephenson dialed his number on four straight possessions, a turnover followed by three straight bricks on isolation jumpers. The shooting sunk Stephenson to an 0-8 night, but Washington was unable to push their lead past 51-46.
Stephenson pulled in a rebound on the following play, darting down the floor and mercifully drawing contact to get to the line. After hitting both free throws, George Hill scored Indiana's next five; a forced turnover and great ball movement for a corner three helped tie the game up at 53-53. Despite his shooting, Stephenson wasn't deterred after his ninth straight miss, lining up a pair of threes as he scored eight straight Pacers points to give them a 63-56 lead with under four in the third.
Gortat was a huge boost for the Wizards in the third, scoring 11 in the quarter, helping the Wizards to stay within four heading into the fourth as the Pacers finally took advantage and closed a quarter strong, winning 25-19. Indiana struggled in the fourth, missing their first five shots, scoring just a single point in the first four minutes of the final period.
In that time, the Wizards regained the lead at 71-69, before a Hibbert dunk ended Indiana's drought. The Pacers continued to struggle shooting, with the Wizards taking a 75-72 lead with 5:43 remaining in the fourth. A calming David West jumper helped set the tone for the last half of the quarter, where Indiana outscored Washington 14-7, getting big buckets from all five starters, a great sign given the large struggles for West, Stephenson, and Paul George.
The Pacers moved ahead 82-79 thanks to George, and ensuing Washington possessions leaked a bit of their inexperience, with a Beal miss resulting in a bad three point attempt by John Wall that didn't go. Wall and Beal would miss three straight three pointers, but Indiana was unable to push their lead beyond three. When Wall finally drove to the basket, Hill was there to meet him, stripping the ball and setting Indiana up on the other end.
Stephenson wound up with the ball as the shot clock wound down; he pulled up for a step back jumper that sunk in, giving Indiana a five point advantage with 21 seconds remaining. A Beal three would follow, but West would ice the game at the free throw line, with the Pacers wrapping up a hard fought 86-82 victory over the Wizards to tie the series at 1-1 heading to Washington.
The biggest thing to happen tonight was to see Roy Hibbert's first look go. For whatever reason, his recent games have been dictated on his very first attempt and when it went in, it set the tone for a dominating offensive performance, the big dawg with 28 points, nine rebounds, and a pair of blocks going his way. Hibbert was 10-13 from the floor and 8-8 from the line.
While he struggled on the other end with Marcin Gortat, who had 21 & 11 on 10-15 shooting, this was a big night for Hibbert on the offensive end. Not only was it a huge redemption for everything he had taken after his 0 & 0 night in Game 1, but it shows just the importance Hibbert stands to have on this series if he plays even remotely this well moving forward.
Generally, a 28 & 9 night from Hibbert is going to help the Pacers to a lot of wins in any setting, but every ounce of his effort tonight was necessary for the Pacers to come away with the win tonight, especially given the struggles of his teammates through much of the night. George Hill was excellent; he had 14 points on 6-12 shooting and was a force on John Wall defensively, holding him to six points on 2-13 shooting.
Beyond those two, and a solid 18 minutes from C.J. Watson, who helped extend Hill's solid night on Wall, and solid minutes from Ian Mahinmi (who had six points on 3-4 shooting) it was touch and go offensively for the rest of the team. David West made little impact with just nine points on 3-8 shooting. Besides the big jumper down the stretch, he never looked comfortable shooting. Neither did Luis Scola, who missed all four of his shots.
Lance Stephenson was the biggest swing of the night, with the complete extremes of his contributions coming to light in the matter of minutes. Not only did he miss his first nine shots, but he began forcing the issue trying to get out of the slump. He would wrap up the night with 12 points, hitting his last three shots, including a cold blooded dagger with 21 seconds remaining in the game. While it's easy to hate the awful decisions, it's awfully hard to not love his resiliency and ability to come through when this team needs a big lift.
Paul George also struggled shooting again tonight, scoring 11 points on 5-13 shooting, but a pair of big takes late in the fourth really helping Indiana close out the win. Defensively, he spent most of the night on Bradley Beal, helping to force the young man into four turnovers, holding him to 17 points on 7-15 shooting. Beal certainly got his throughout the night with big shots, but never got to the point where he was in Game 1 where he had pretty much taken the game on his shoulders.
The Pacers allowed 45% shooting from the Wizards, but limited them to 82 points in large part to their ball control even though the Wizards once again crashed the glass in a big way, getting 11 offensive boards for eight extra shtos. Indiana had just eight turnovers, but even more importantly, allowed just a single point off of those turnovers. The Pacers also kept Washington out of transition, allowing just one point in the fast break.
The Wizards were also dreadful from the free throw line, going just 5-12. The Pacers shot 18-21 to outscore Washington by 13, but some late free throw misses by Indiana helped keep things interesting down the stretch. Regardless of how it ended up a victory, it was one. The result may have looked good tonight, but there were still a lot of things Indiana will need to improve on if they hope to take control of the series on the road against the worst home team in playoffs (saying this, the Pacers are just 3-3 at home after posting a 35-6 regular season record).
On a positive note, the late game resiliency of Indiana once again showed up in a must win situation. It would be more encouraging if they would stop putting themselves in must win situations due to their inability to string together multiple performances of note, but until they prove they can, they'll simply be playing the tough out role instead of the title contending role. So the up and down trek of Indiana's 2014 NBA Playoff run takes another turn with the series notched at 1-1 heading to the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on Friday.