The Indiana Pacers are the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but nobody told the Washington Wizards that when they rolled into Indy and overwhelmed the number one seed. Riding high after a 4-1 series win over the Chicago Bulls, the Wizards continued their strong play of late and beat the Pacers at their own game. Bradley Beal led the high-flying Wizards with 25 points and both George Hill and Paul George led the Pacers with 18 each. But it was not the scoring that made the difference in this game, it was the defense, and if the Wizards continue to play this type of stout defense on the Pacers’s bigs, it will be a quick series for both teams.
Washington came out with a bang, scoring the game’s first eight points and overwhelming the Pacers, who looked like the team of late, not of old. The Wizards did not stop the onslaught either, jumping out to a 13 point lead by the end of the first quarter and only looking back once. The Pacers went on a run in the second quarter, briefly holding a 31-30 lead, but the Wizards charged down the court, scored to take the lead back and never lost it till the final horn blew. It was a dominant performance in all facets of the game for the Wizards, who held a sizable lead throughout the second half, only allowing Indiana to get within five points during the final minute of the game. It was the strong start that made all the difference as well; Washington was outscored by seven points during the second, third and fourth quarters combined, but their 13 point lead after the first was enough to sustain for the win.
Most in the media are calling the win for the Wizards shocking, unexpected and questioning what is wrong with the Pacers. Yes, in the beginning of the season Indiana was the best team in the league, and still finished with the best record. They have some of the most talented players, but like any New York reporter will incessantly ask, ‘what have you done for me lately?’ The Wizards have won five of their last six games in the playoffs and the Pacers are sitting an even 4-4 after going the distance with the lowly Atlanta Hawks. The Wizards finished the season winning seven of their last ten games by an average margin of 6.5 points per game, and beat the Bulls, who were red-hot entering the post season. Yes the Washington Wizards are on an upswing and the Indiana Pacers are rolling in the opposite direction, but their win over Indiana last night was more than stealing home court advantage, it showed who the better team was.
The Indiana Pacers are known for dominated teams down low with their two big men, Roy Hibbert and David West. One of the teams last night out-rebounded the other 56-35 and that same team’s center finished the game with 15 rebounds, snagging six of them on the offensive end. The Pacers are all about size and strength, but last night it was the Wizards that flexed their muscles. They were the team that out-rebounded and Marcin Gortat was the center that vastly outplayed his counterpart in Roy Hibbert. The Pacers may be better off playing the eternally hobbled Andrew Bynam than Hibbert, who is taking the cake for biggest late season collapse. Hibbert scored zero points, had zero rebounds and recorded five fouls. His only contributions were two blocks and (somehow) one assist, and that was in only 18 minutes of play; in comparison, Drew Gooden came off the bench for Washington, also played 18 minutes, and hauled in 13 rebounds and scored 12 points. The Washington Wizards were the better team last night, and may be overall, but if Indiana wants any chance of moving on, they need their big man to stop sulking and saying he has to play better; the man needs to actually produce.
An impostor Hibbert showing up was not the only reason the Wizards got the win last night. Washington’s starters outscored the Pacer’s by 24 points and held the Pacers to 35.4 percent shooting, while hitting 64.3 percent of their own shots from beyond the three-point line. The factors last night were Trevor Ariza who shot 6-6 from three as part of his 22 point effort, as well as Brandley Beal who scored a game high 25 points. That is what makes the Wizards so dangerous; they have weapons that could all go off at any moment. In Game 2 the Pacers will undoubtably start knocking around Gortat down low, double-teaming Beal and crowding Washington’s shooters from beyond the arc, but what about John Wall? (it was a quiet night for Wall who scored 13 points and had nine assists) The Wizards are playing with more energy, shooting the ball better and look like a team that has played together all season long; the Pacers do not. Although the Washington Wizards rolled over the hapless Indiana Pacers last night, Indiana should get back to business on Wednesday and win Game 2, but in the end, it still looks like the Wizards will win this series in six games.
Commentary By Chris Dragicevich