Roy Hibbert and C.J. Watson – Frank McGrath (Pacers.com)
ISR Senior Writer
INDIANAPOLIS-The Indiana Pacers play better when they need to win. For whatever reason, the chance at closing out the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals and putting their feet up until the other side of the bracket was decided wasn’t appealing to the Pacers, nor was it viewed as a necessity. Instead, Indiana suffered their second-largest home playoff loss in franchise history with a crippling 79-102 loss.
The Washington Wizards came into Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday night and absolutely dismantled the Indiana Pacers. The young, inexperienced playoff team with all the pressure on their shoulders played game five like they were advancing to the conference finals with a win Tuesday night.
“Coming into this game, we had to step up as a group and play better than we have and we definitely did that,” Wizards head coach Randy Wittman said. “(Wizards) aren’t ready to go home. We played our caliber then we’re going to have another chance tonight that was my theme to them. We don’t have any more room for error, but if we play our way we can beat these guys.”
Safe to assume the Wizards heard their coach loud and clear. Washington outrebounded the Pacers 62-23 on the back of Marcin Gortat’s 31 points (13 of 15) and 16 rebounds. John Wall added 27 points (6of 8), five assists and five rebounds. The Wizards’ 62 rebounds are the highest of any team this postseason. And if that weren’t bad enough, Washington’s starting five outscored the Pacers’ starting five 90-48.
“I told (my teammates) I want to contribute. I talked to John (Wall) before the game and he looked for me more. Coach Witt also put me in good positions to score. I was ready to play today,” Gortat said. “After the first few baskets you feel good, you feel confident. At some point in the middle of the game you just feel like everything works.”
Tuesday night was the second game five the Pacers had trailed by 30 points, both at home (Atlanta 80-50, Washington 100-70). The Pacers were 35-6 at home in the regular season, but have played poorly in the postseason with a home record of 3-4 with all four losses by double digits.
Indiana started the game with an early timeout after Washington jumped out to a 10-3 lead. At the end of the first quarter it was 25-19. A Pacers’ 8-0 run pushed Indiana to the lead, 27-19, but Washington pieced together their own surge to lead 45-38 at halftime. The Pacers were outrebounded in the first half 32-11—Gortat had 11 rebounds at the half alone.
“Gortat misses two shots the whole game. He was unbelievable for them. We haven’t allowed those types of games from people this postseason and tonight just wasn’t a good night for one of those games to happen,” David West said. “He got his self going early with some easy put backs and layups and by halftime I just thought (Gortat) was rolling a little too well and we just couldn’t contain him.”
If there were any adjustments made at halftime, it wasn’t easy to identify—if they even existed. Indiana didn’t come out with a sense of urgency, not even a feeling of desperation. Anything would have helped instead of their lethargic, lost and dazed body language. Washington outscored the Pacers 31-14 in the third quarter, leading 76-52 at the end of three. Vogel kept most of his starters and main rotation players in the game for much of the fourth quarter before pulling the plug with just over six minutes left.
By then, the only thing the Pacers needed to focus on was getting to the airport and flying to D.C. for game six Thursday night at 8 p.m. Paul George finished with 15 points and West ended his night with 17 points and six rebounds while Roy Hibbert regressed with four points and two rebounds. Washington will now have to defend their home court, a place where they, too, have struggled this post season.
“Everyone knows how we play at home,” Gortat said laughing. “Quite honestly, we struggle at home. I have a feeling that we’ll feel the pressure at home on Thursday. We have a young team and we need to play the best game of our lives.”
Gortat is right. There will be pressure. The pressure is mounting, but for the Pacers, that is. At the end of the day, Washington can live and die by the carefree notion that they’re not the team that’s supposed to advance, they’re that young, new-to-the-party five seed. Meanwhile, Indiana has to scramble just to make it to the conference finals to save face, if nothing more, prevent the notion that this season was a disaster.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, Indiana has delivered in situations where they have no other choice. They won two-in-a-row when they had to against Atlanta just to get to this round. One problem, though. This isn’t Atlanta. This is a capable team that, despite losing both of their home games, has won two of three in Indianapolis and they’re not showing any signs of quit. The Pacers are now in the unfortunate position of collecting the pieces and trying to put them together, again.
“It’s disappointing. It’s definitely not expected. For some reason, I don’t know, everybody has got to be on board for us to compete and win. Everyone has to play with the same level of intensity and urgency for us to be successful,” West said. “We didn’t have enough fight as a group to compete with this team tonight and that’s very disappointing because we blew a great opportunity.”
Corey Elliot is a Senior Writer at the Indy Sports Report and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association. He is recognized as an accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access. Follow us on twitter @CoreyElliot and @IndySportsRep