It was a masterpiece. The Pacers and Wizards pulled out all the stops to provide a terrible, near-unwatchable first half. And in its own weird way, it was more entertaining than almost any of the other 2nd round games so far.
After a brilliantly close Round 1, the games in the conference semis have ranged from boring to blowouts. Indiana and Washington were never going to give us the aesthetically pleasing offensive shootouts we crave, so they combined forces on the next best thing: a train wreck.
Possession after possession the offenses slowly brought the ball up, passed it around to stagnant teammates, set a mediocre screen or two, then settled for a (more often than not contested) midrange jumper.
Each team contributed in its own unique way to the ugliness.
Washington attempted to get out and run off of a miss more than a few times only to turn the ball over against the Pacers who had beaten them down the floor. Paul George and George Hill both enjoyed numerous opportunities to slam the door shut on potentially promising transition chances, and John Wall finished the evening with seven turnovers.
Indiana reverted to the stiff, unmoving offense they have featured so often in this postseason, walking it up and letting the Washington defense set up before making any moves. Marcin Gortat and Nene were more than happy to seal of the paint, with Nene making life particularly miserable for David West.
Even good offensive plays just prolonged the misery. Trevor Ariza repeatedly overpowered the smaller Lance Stephenson to secure offensive rebounds. The only problem was that the ball just went back out to the Wizards’ guards, and they got another 24 seconds to burn.
The score went from amusing to sad. After four minutes of play neither team had recorded their fifth point. When the clock wound past the six-minute mark, the score was 8-8.
Evan Turner and Luis Scola had been put on ice at the end of the Atlanta series, but were dusted off to join in the brickfest, while offensive weapon Chris Copeland stayed glued to the bench. Holding a midrange jumper futility contest just wouldn’t have felt right without a dose of Turner.
Eventually things did loosen up in the 2nd half for Indiana, and no major records were set. It didn’t matter. There was something mesmerizing about watching two offenses struggle this badly for a full 24 minutes with a trip to the conference finals on the line.
Not everything was a disaster. A good chunk of credit goes to the defenses, which were both spectacular at walling off the paint and limiting threes. The long twos were the only open shots for most of the game, and neither team was particularly interested in making them. The refs definitely helped by allowing a good amount of pushing and shoving, but Roy Hibbert’s defense for the Pacers and Gortat and Nene’s for the Wizards were the main reasons for the halftime score ending up 34-33.
Hibbert was able to carry his swagger over to the offensive end of the floor, where he was one of the few players to put together a decent offensive night. Much has been made of his woes, especially on the offensive end, but Washington has bigger problems now.
If the Wizards can’t get better looks than they did in this game Lady Gaga’s fans may not have to worry about a conflict for Game 6. They need to force the Pacers to bend their defense and stop settling for long two-pointers. That starts with Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall can get past George Hill, and he’s got to at least make the Pacers react to his speed. Without that the open looks on the perimeter for Ariza and Beal will never materialize. The shooting is going to get better, but the problems run deeper when the only shots you can get are contested 18-footers.
Beal will have to play his part as well; he can take some of the ball-handling pressure off Wall by being more aggressive and seeking better looks for himself and teammates. Indiana’s defense is too good for one guy to beat them. In general the off-ball cutting and screening was pathetic for Washington, and if they want to have a chance in this series they need to spice up their offense. If Flip Saunders has it in him to make these adjustments, now’s the time to show it. The Wiz have already lost the homecourt advantage they stole in Game 1, and Indiana will roll into the Eastern Finals without some tactical adjustments by Washington.