INDIANAPOLIS — The confidence beamed from Washington Wizards’ point guard John Wall. After the Indiana Pacers were able to take Game 2 on Wednesday night, 86-82, Wall went about his business in the locker room carrying himself with poise, a belief that his Wizards were still in control.
“I think we’ll get them in five,” Wall told teammate Kevin Seraphin. “Six at the most.”
It wasn’t arrogance, it wasn’t youthful ignorance either. Wall truly meant what he said, and how can you blame him?
It took Roy Hibbert awakening from his post-season slump to get the Pacers the victory. The 7-2 center led all scorers with 28 points on 10-of-13 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds — the most this postseason. This all came after Game 1’s 0 point, 0 rebound performance.
Washington shot just 23.8 percent (5-21) from behind the arc and missed seven of their 12 free-throw attempts. 41 of their 80 shots from the field were uncontested by the Pacers, according to SportVU, and they were able to connect on just 41.5 percent of those. To put it simply, the Wizards missed a ton of open looks and still had a legitimate chance to win the game down the stretch.
“We just weren’t making them,” Bradley Beal said of the missed 3-pointers. “We had some great looks in transition, a lot of kick-outs, it just wasn’t falling tonight.”
“[The Pacers] did a better job of closing out on us, but I thought we also missed some really good looks,” head coach Randy Wittman added.
Hibbert’s offensive explosion came at the price of others on the Pacers. To his credit, his energy and aggressiveness was apparent from the tip, as he was constantly fighting for position and attacking the glass on both ends of the floor. But the Pacers’ offense stalled at times when looking to get the ball in to Hibbert. Paul George scored 11 points, while Lance Stephenson pitched in 12, combining to shoot just 32 percent from the field. Stephenson missed his first nine shots in the game.
“We didn’t call anymore plays for Roy tonight than we have all series,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said after the narrow victory. “That’s the remarkable thing. He did it on his own.”
“He did a great job of ducking in,” Wall said describing Hibbert’s performance. “They got him going early – what, he had 11 in the first quarter? He was being physical and he did what he was supposed to do tonight.”
What the Pacers were supposed to do was win, obviously. A loss would’ve been a near certain end to their playoff lives, and they needed every bounce of the ball to go their way to avoid it on Wednesday. Indiana committed just eight turnovers — their lowest mark this postseason — and gave up 11 offensive rebounds, yet the Wizards managed just four second-chance points.
With 2:57 left in the game and the Pacers holding a slim lead, the Wizards had three of four offensive possessions end with a Wall miss from behind the arc after an offensive rebound. If any of those drop, the Wizards would’ve been looking a tie game with a legitimate shot to win it.
“I think one of the best shots in basketball is a kick-out three off an offensive rebound,” Wall said. “It’s a shot I took most of the season. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t.”
The Wizards’ up-and-coming back court of Wall and Beal combined to shoot 9-of-28 from the field. Wall, who struggled at times to get by the veteran defender in George Hill, managed just six points. It didn’t phase Wall, though, just like the loss didn’t. He, along with the entire Wizards’ locker room, remain more confident than ever.
“I didn’t play great,” Wall said bluntly. “I feel like I lost the game for my team. But you still had a chance to win this game at the end even though they played pretty well and made their adjustments.
“Criticism is going to be on me if we win or lose, I’ll take the blame. That’s what I’m supposed to do as a point guard.”
The series now shifts to Washington for Games 3 and 4, and despite Hibbert regaining his form, Washington seems like they have the upper hand — at least that’s what they believe. In a way, the Pacers looked across the court tonight and saw the version of themselves from the past two seasons. Washington’s youth in the back court and veteran muscle up front aren’t scared of these Pacers and they’re trying to make a name for themselves in these playoffs.
“We wanted to come in and be greedy and get two,” Wall admitted. “But the main thing is when you’re on the road for your first two games, you definitely want to get one.”
Wall and his Wizards did just that. Their fearlessness isn’t going away anytime soon.
The Pacers must recognize this, or Wall’s prediction will likely come true.
Brandon Curry is the Pacers Beat Writer at the Indy Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access. Follow us on Twitter, @BCurryNBA and @IndySportsRep
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