The Indiana Pacers used a late run to eliminate the Washington Wizards, 93-80, on Thursday night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Indiana started hot, hitting seven of their first eight shots, to take an early lead they would hold until Bradley Beal hit a three in transition more than three minutes into the fourth quarter. The Pacers displayed much better energy after stinking up Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday night in their first chance to close out the series.
The defense looked better and David West and Roy Hibbert handled the glass as they controlled Marcin Gortat and Nene unlike they did in Game 5. The Wizards outrebounded the Pacers by just two, two nights after having a +39 differential. In the first half, Indiana limited their live-ball turnovers and because of that Washington failed to register a fast break point.
As bad as the Wizards looked, in terms of both execution and body language, Nene, Trevor Ariza and Andre Miller kept them within striking distance. They combined for 14 of the team's 17 points in the second frame on 5-for-10 shooting. Thanks to their contributions, the Pacers played a great first half but had just a 52-40 lead.
The third quarter was one of runs, but the Wizards had the last one of the period with a 16-4 stretch that spilled into the fourth. The tide turned when John Wall began to successfully push the ball -- the Pacers did a great job of guarding the paint and the rim through the first 30 minutes – and when Paul George and Hibbert started to show signs of exhaustion.
Washington entered the fourth down seven, but dominated the first three-plus minutes. They made four of their first five shots and took a one point lead on a Beal three at the 8:31 mark, just seconds after the 20-year-old ripped the ball out of the hands of the much larger Hibbert.
The Pacers looked to be on their heels, with George even engaging rowdy fans behind the bench at the Verizon Center, but West made sure the Wizards wouldn't be traveling back to Indianapolis for a seventh game.
After the Beal three, Washington went scoreless for the next 7:25 as the Pacers turned up their defense and the home team's inexperience reared its ugly head. A 17-2 run effectively ended the series, much like the 16-4 run Indiana used to win Game 6 on the road against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round.
When Nene finally stopped the bleeding with a layup, it was too late.
Washington's offense was brutal over the final eight-plus minutes. They went 2-for-13 with four turnovers and scored just six points.
In his postgame interview with Doris Burke, West said he told Frank Vogel that he wasn't going to let his team lose. He wasn't kidding. West scored eight points in the fourth quarter and finished with 29 points, six rebounds and four assists. Perhaps more importantly, he called out his younger teammates whenever he saw something he didn't like and seemed to have an answer for every run the Wizards put together.
After more than two months of maddening play, the Pacers are right where we all expected -- the Eastern Conference Finals against the familiar Miami Heat.
Lance Stephenson had his best game of the series, tallying 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He was especially aggressive in the first half, making Bradley Beal work hard on the defensive end. Stephenson had 11 points in his first 20 minutes on 5-for-7 shooting, while Beal struggled. He made just three of his first 10 shots and didn't get going until midway through the third quarter.
Stephenson tends to over-dribble and can make poor decisions, but when the Pacers are struggling on offense he becomes a nice go-to option. His matchup with Dwyane Wade will be a focal point over the next two weeks.
Deferring To West
David West certainly put the Pacers on his back in the fourth quarter when the Wizards briefly took the lead. He wanted to take over, but when the Wizards made their run it was troubling to see the other four starters clearly deferring to him.
It wasn't until West hit a pair of jumpers to give Indiana a three-point lead that his teammates looked engaged and willing to take a big shot. Plenty of those will be needed against the Heat if the Pacers want to make it a series.
West took 26 of Indiana's 72 shots, including eight in the fourth quarter. It worked, but he had only topped 15 on one other occasion in the postseason (he attempted 20 in a must-win Game 6 against the Hawks).
In fact, the 26 attempts are the most West has tallied as a member of the Pacers. He put up 26 shots five times when he played for the New Orleans Hornets and hasn't topped that mark since Jan. 13, 2008.