Given the disastrous start to their four game road trip, a 2-2 split for the Indiana Pacers began to sound incredibly appealing given the opportunity to get those two wins against playoff opponents. The Pacers responded, defeating Milwaukee on Friday and following that up with an encore performance against the Washington Wizards, a hard-fought wire-to-wire victory.
While the Pacers never trailed, they still needed some luck in coming away with the win late. The Pacers led by double figures in the first and third quarters, as many as 17 late in the third, but each time the Wizards would climb back in the game, taking every advantage they could against Indiana’s bench.
The Pacers put a stamp on the first half by outscoring Washington 7-0 to play the second quarter to a draw, but getting there required a short run from the bench. That same problem cropped up to start the fourth quarter as the Wizards used a 12-0 run to turn Indiana’s 17-point advantage into a two possession game.
Off the bench, only Domantas Sabonis played over 11 minutes, which meant short nights from Lance Stephenson, Joe Young, and Glenn Robinson III. The trio, along with Sabonis, scored 17 points against Washington’s 27 bench points. Despite only losing the bench battle by 10, however, the flow made it much worse with the bench surrendering double figure leads in each run.
This continued even as Nate McMillain adjusted in the second half to leave starters on the floor with the second unit, which in the end resulted in a heavy run for the starters on the first night of a back-to-back, with four players logging 38 minutes or more. Given the importance of the game, however, that proved a necessary, albeit frustrating, step to come away with the win.
Even as they adjusted back to the starters, the Pacers continued to struggle early in the fourth. The Wizards outscored them 16-4 draw the game to within three after a Mike Scott three pointer with just under seven minutes to go. To this point, the Pacers hadn’t hit a field goal in the quarter, shooting 0-5 with five turnovers, while simultaneously putting the Wizards into the bonus early.
Bojan Bogdanovic hit the first field goal of the quarter on a three point to respond to Scott’s three, giving Indiana a crucial six point cushion as the Wizards continued to chip away in the following two minutes to bring the lead down to just two. In the final four minutes, the game changed in the favor of the Pacers thanks to the play of Victor Oladipo.
Oladipo stepped up in Winning Time with back-to-back buckets, including a interception on Bradley Beal to push the lead back to six.
Washington continued to push, again cutting the lead to three, only to again have Oladipo respond with a three that doubled the lead with under two to go. Otto Porter Jr. responded with a three and Beal hit a pair of free throws to draw Washington to within a single point with 36 seconds remaining.
Defense proved crucial in the closing moments as the Pacers forced a stop to keep the lead at one. Indiana to that point hadn’t missed a free throw on the night, but Oladipo split a pair to bring the lead to two. On the next play, Beal was held at the rim by Oladipo, setting up Cory Joseph to split an opportunity to ice the game.
On the game’s final possession, Beal worked free for a good look from three point range that he left short and a Scott offensive rebound led to a three wide left as the clock expired, securing Indiana’s well-earned, partially lucky escape in Washington.
Indiana’s road to victory in this game was somewhat improbable. Typically the Pacers can get to wins by either excelling in ball movement or getting out in transition. They did neither tonight. They had just 11 assists for the game, which was a season low. The Pacers were 3-11 when they had 18 or fewer assists before tonight’s game.
The Pacers also had just nine fast break points, entering just 3-12 when they had fewer than 10 points, which made Oladipo’s breakaway dunk all the more important. While Indiana’s fail-safes weren’t there, what the Pacers did have was Oladipo to will them to victory. Oladipo finished with a game high 33 points, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter, eight coming in winning time.
Oladipo also had seven rebounds and a team high three steals, joining Thaddeus Young, who otherwise struggled with four rebounds and zero points on 0-5 shooting, but as typical of Young, he’s capable of making an impact on the game even without scoring. Indiana did get scoring from the other starters, with Bogdanovic scoring 20 points, teeing off Indiana’s fourth quarter with his third three of the night.
Myles Turner looked good early, but struggled shooting overall. He did finish with a 12 point, 13 rebound double double (including a team high three assists), looking the most competitive he’s looked...maybe ever against more physical bigs in Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi. Gortat did feast early on the offensive glass, but had just one after the first quarter. Cory Joseph also reached double figures with 16 points, going a perfect 6-6 from inside the arc.
The Pacers wrap up their four game road trip on a high note, winning against the teams they needed to win again, pushing them into fourth place in the East ahead of Washington by a half game. Against any reasonable assertion heading into the season, the Pacers on March 4 currently hold home court advantage in the East, sit just a half game behind LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with the tiebreaker, and to be as petty as possible, hold a better record than Oklahoma City. It’s hard to believe anyone had that one.
That said, there’s still a long way to go in Indiana’s final 19 games to ensure they can keep hold of this newfound home court edge especially given just one loss can drop them. The Pacers will have to carry their heavy minutes into a home back-to-back against the Milwaukee Bucks, who outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo, are seeing much more balanced minute distribution in another standings battle against Philadelphia.