A cushy win with some underlying concerns quickly became a survive by any means necessary situation for the Indiana Pacers late against the Washington Wizards. They trailed only briefly in the early portions of the first quarter, but were never able to really put the game away, that slight crack in the door becoming just enough for the Wizards to hang around just enough.
Indiana led by as many as 17 in this game, but time and again Washington were there with some kind of game salvaging mini-run to bring the score with eight or nine, never truly enough to worry, but never enough to feel completely comfortable. This was highlighted best when Indiana’s effort won them extra possessions all night, including this excellent sequence late in the third:
Wesley Matthews missed a straight ahead three leading Kyle O’Quinn to chase down the long rebound, diving out of bounds to save the ball back to Matthews, who hit a wide open three to make it a 16-point lead. With those kinds of winning plays and that momentum, the Pacers still surrendered a 7-0 run in the next minute to bring the game to single digits.
The game would fluctuate like this for much of the night, but Indiana did a phenomenal job throughout the night stopping every Washington run cold. They read the defense well enough to get excellent looks at the rim as part of their 58 points in the paint, but they were also timely with their three point shooting as well, going a steady 11-25 and finishing 56.6% overall.
Indiana led by 13 with just under nine minutes to go in the fourth when one of these shifts in momentum occurred. The Wizards scored their next 13 points on threes, and-ones, and four point plays, cutting the lead to two while confusing the Pacers on switching defenses just as Indiana completely abandoned ball control all together.
Washington scored 10 of those 13 off turnovers, forcing the Pacers into nine turnovers in the fourth, which continued to keep them alive even after Indiana pushed a three point advantage back up to 11 with 90 seconds remaining. Turnovers again played a part in helping the Wizards score seven points in 30 seconds, making it a six-point game.
Domantas Sabonis was fouled on a rebound, sending him to the line with a chance to make it a three possession game. Free throw shooting was an adventure for the Pacers all night, no more than on this particular pair of attempts, which Sabonis promptly bricked, sending Washington the other way, setting up Thomas Bryant for a big time three with 28 seconds left, making it a 115-112 game, advantage Pacers.
Darren Collison, who has been one of the best in the league at assist to turnover ratio was completely out of sorts in this one, committing a team high five turnovers, including a costly one on the next possession, giving the ball right back to Washington. This time, Bryant’s three was errant, giving Collison a trip to the line, where he’d help ice the game and let out a big sigh of relief as Indiana held on for the win.
Both teams played this game on the second night of a back-to-back and the effort on display made it hard to tell, but there was certainly signs in how lackadaisical both teams were with the ball. The two teams combined for 45 turnovers, with Indiana losing the battle with 23. That resulted in a staggering amount of points off turnovers for both teams, the Wizards winning that one 30-25.
The Pacers were led early and often by Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic, scoring 22 and 18 respectively. They combined for 17 in the first quarter to help Indiana get off on the right foot, and were there throughout the night with those buckets to maximize their leads or to break up Washington runs.
Off the bench, Sabonis would lead the way with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and four steals, but did shoot just 3-7 from the line. Cory Joseph also picked up his game after a less than stellar showing against New Orleans, scoring 11 points with five rebounds. Doug McDermott took full advantage of his three point looks, scoring 12 on 4-5 shooting from deep.
The Pacers move to 40-20 on the season, becoming the fifth team to reach the 40-win mark. They also improve to 8-1 in their last nine games, securing their third straight road win and starting their current three game trip off on the right foot. These positives in the standings were accentuated by blowout losses today by both Philadelphia and Boston, giving the Pacers a two game edge over Philly and three games over Boston for third place.
Indiana will return to action on Monday when they travel to the Motor City to face the Detroit Pistons for just the second time this year. It will be the third of seven games against below .500 opponents, a crucial stretch that the Pacers need to maximize as a murderer’s row of foes in March inches ever closer.