Winning ugly has become a specialty of sorts for the Indiana Pacers during Frank Vogel's tenure and in the latest most important game of the 2014-15 season (to date) for Indiana, ugliness was in no short supply. The Pacers played to the very definition of ugly in the first half of tonight's do-or-(basically) die game against the Washington Wizards, bricking their first nine shots, falling into an 8-0 hole out of the gate.
But while Indiana struggled, it was their defense that helped keep them in the game, keeping the Washington offense from finding any sort of groove of their own. At the end of the first quarter, despite shooting just 35%, the Pacers and Wizards were notched at 16-16. Things didn't get much better for the Indiana offense, running through another four minute scoring drought to drop to 25% shooting, eventually falling into a 12-point hole after a pair of Otto Porter threes put Washington ahead 39-27, holding a 41-33 lead at the break with Indiana shooting under 30% for the half.
In the third quarter, the Pacers finally found some life shooting the ball, scoring on five of their first six possessions to draw to within a point at 46-45. Suffering through another three minute scoring drought, Indiana would hold Washington a single point in the stretch, eventually pushing into the lead behind a David West layup. Marcin Gortat would make the lead short-lived, giving Washington four straight as part of a 10-2 run that moved Washington up 57-50.
Rodney Stuckey struggled as much as anyone in missing his first six shots, but closed the third quarter strong for Indiana, scoring six straight for the Pacers, winning the third quarter and allowing them a three point deficit heading into the fourth, trailing 59-56. Paul George tied the game with a three pointer to open the fourth, but bad shooting and turnovers continued to haunt the Indiana, leading the Wizards bench to take advantage, pushing Indiana into a difficult nine point deficit at 70-61 with just over six minutes remaining.
At that point, the Pacers offense woke up, scoring on their next six possessions, keyed by big shots from George Hill and C.J. Miles, who led Indiana in scoring for the night. Hill's layup with 2:33 remaining moved Indiana ahead 76-75, with David West at the free throw line moving Indiana up two. West would miss his second free throw, but Roy Hibbert followed with a Dwight Freeney-esque spin move, for the put back, as it appeared Indiana was in control at 79-75.
But the Pacers struggled late keeping Washington off of the offensive glass, surrendering an offensive board to Drew Gooden, eventually setting up Gortat for the second chance opportunity. Hill telegraphed a bad pass right into waiting hands of John Wall, who broke free for what would eventually wind up as a pair of free throws that gave away Indiana's four point lead with 1:16 remaining.
Stuckey and Wall traded baskets in the final minute, a Pacers miss turning into two opportunities (and nearly three) for Washington by way of offensive rebounds. But Indiana managed to make the stand with the game tied, forcing overtime at 81-81. Bradley Beal hit a pair of free throws early in overtime to give Washington an 83-81 advantage, one that would stand for nearly the remainder of the extra period with Indiana missing their first six shots and suffering turnover woes as the extra period dragged on.
Indiana finally got on the board in overtime when Hill found Hibbert late in the shot clock, with Hibbert drilling a 20-foot jumper to tie the game with 57 seconds remaining. Wall would fake out Hill on the ensuing Wizards possession to set up an and one opportunity. Wall missed the free throw, but another offensive rebound forced the Pacers into a defensive stop, one they got on a Beal miss.
Out of the timeout, Indiana managed to get the ball inbounds (no small feat for the Pacers late), with Hill finding George for a big time bucket to notch the game at 85 all. With the Wizards holding for the final shot, West knocked the ball out of bounds off of Beal, giving Indiana one last opportunity with 2.3 seconds left. George's game winning attempt went right, extending Indiana's season for at least another five minutes at 85-85.
The Pacers were visibly worn down, but dug deep to come up with two huge turnovers early in overtime, leading to a wide open C.J. Miles three and a well-found layup by Hill to David West, giving Indiana some breathing room up 92-87. More misses and turnovers from Indiana left the door open for Washington, with Beal hitting a big three to cut the lead to two.
West and Wall would swap baskets on back-to-back possessions, keeping Washington alive with 44 seconds remaining. But despite three turnovers on the night, Hill stepped into a dagger three pointer with 27 seconds on the clock to help push Indiana ahead for good, sealing a 99-95 victory and moving Indiana to a win-and-in situation tomorrow night against Memphis.
For such an ugly game, there was no shortage of excitement late. Both teams shot under 40% on the night, though Indiana managed to outshoot Washington at 38% to 35%. The Pacers had only David West shoot above 50% for the night, with him scoring seven of his 15 in the fourth and overtime periods. And despite proclamations from Washington about wanting to eliminate Indiana from the playoffs, John Wall and Bradley Beal were just a combined 14-47 on the night for 35 points, which in their defense, was better than Indiana in the first half tonight.
George Hill played fantastic yet again with the game on the line despite a bad pass late that likely set up the extra periods. Hill had 24 points, nearing a triple double with 10 assists and nine rebounds, hitting just two of his 10 three point attempts, but both coming at crucial times in the game.
C.J. Miles led Indiana with 25, hitting four threes of his own, but it was his play offensively, particular in the first half, that kept Indiana in the game on that end of the floor through the first 24 minutes. Roy Hibbert struggled in the first half, but played at a much higher level in the second, scoring six points, including four late, to go along with 12 rebounds and three blocks.
Paul George and Rodney Stuckey each led the bench with 10 points. George went over his minute cap, totaling 18 on the night, getting extended run in the first overtime period. With the Pacers playing tomorrow, George's minute allocation will be worth keeping an eye on in the regular season finale, one that will feature another appearance from their FloJo jerseys.
The Pacers are not out of the woods yet. Despite the win, they still have to battle with a banged up Memphis Grizzlies team that is still fighting for playoff seeding in a vicious Western Conference battle. The silver lining for both teams though is the late 9:30 Eastern tip, which will allow Memphis and Indiana to each know what they will be fighting for in the second half.
That could work in or against Indiana's favor depending on how Houston and San Antonio play out their final games, each tipping at 8 p.m. Eastern, but also in regards to the Pacers, who will be keeping a close eye on how the Brooklyn Nets close out their regular season at home against Orlando, also tipping at 8 p.m.