The 2020-21 season went out with a whimper for the Indiana Pacers, getting run off the court by the Washington Wizards in the final round of the Play-In Tournament. The defensive struggles they’ve had against Washington all season were on full display, all beginning with continuing to allow Russell Westbrook to get everything and everywhere he wanted.
The Pacers didn’t look to have the same spark in them that they had on Tuesday against Charlotte and that really became evident in the second quarter. Indiana trailed 30-29 heading into the second and sat tied 34-34 when the Wizards ran of 16 straight, efficiently on their end of the floor, aided by an awful shooting exhibition by the Pacers, who dipped down to about 35% while the Wizards shot over 60%.
Things got out of hand in that quarter with a deep bench run for the Pacers. Nate Bjorkgren closed the first with an all-new lineup, then opened the second with Goga Bitadze in Domantas Sabonis’s place, playing 10-deep against a Westbrook-led Washington. Not surprisingly, that didn’t pan out at all, allowing the Wizards to blow the game wide open.
The Pacers did keep the game around 16 points for the remainder of the half, but the end of the second, featuring a pair of big time Daniel Gafford blocks on Doug McDermott and Malcolm Brogdon, did little to conclude the half on any kind of positive note. A 20-6 run for the Wizards in the third put the game out of reach, as Washington posted 48 points in the quarter.
Things continued, bafflingly so, to be really bad on the defensive end against Washington. The Wizards shot over 60% for much of the game, scoring 72 points in the paint, outscoring the Pacers 16-5 in transition. The Pacers went over against Westbrook on screens, allowing him to ease his way into an 18 point, 15 assist night that had no resistance whatsoever.
The Indiana offense, meanwhile, lacked real purpose. Washington’s defense did a solid job snuffing out any Sabonis-led offensive sets, forcing him into another slow start. He finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists, fouling out in the process, committing five turnovers.
Along with a 24-point night from Brogdon on 9-23 shooting, the lack of dynamic scoring was on full display. Indiana didn’t even make things easier for themselves either as the movement sputtered, making it easier for a Washington defense that can always use the other team’s help in making them look good. As a team, the Pacers struggled to just get above 40% shooting.
The loss drops the Pacers out of the playoffs for the first time since 2015. They won exactly zero playoff series in the intervening time, putting a bow on one of the more underwhelming runs for the franchise. Optimistically, they got to the doorstep of the playoffs despite being decimated by injuries throughout the year, but that too has been part of this team for the last three years running.
There aren’t a lot of certainties for this team moving into the summer, not with the coaching staff or with the overall makeup of the roster. The Pacers have been more or less content to keep the band together despite the endless stream of injuries, but it feels like this year might be a bit different in terms of who stays and who goes, potentially starting again with the coaching staff.
I want to thank everyone who has read and involved themselves with Indy Cornrows and the community again this year. Though the season itself had extensive struggles, Tom, Caitlin, and Mark were in championship form, hopefully providing the Pacers franchise enough inspiration to get them back into form for next season, one that will begin with the Draft Lottery.