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West Takes Control, Pacers Respond Late To Eliminate Wizards

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.

Good Lance

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.

Wizards Outwork Pacers, Dominate Game 5

Believe it or not, the Indiana Paces actually led at one point in Game 5 against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night. With 5:16 left in the first half, they had a 32-30 advantage with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals one victory away.

The Wizards clearly had more energy and urgency in the first quarter, but turnovers kept them from building a double-digit lead. The Pacers hung around, beginning the second with a huge run to seemingly take control of the game. When Washington didn't back down, Indiana decided they would instead.

Marcin Gortat owned the first half with 17 points and 11 rebounds on 8-for-10 shooting. He matched the entire Pacers team on the glass, while the Wizards took a 32-11 edge into the break. Still, Indiana only trailed 45-38 with 24 minutes left to flip the switch and begin preparing for their next opponent, likely the rival Miami Heat.

The Pacers had won the third quarter in each of the first four games of the semifinal series, including double-digit advantages in the last two, but the Wizards were the ones to dominate the period with their season on the line.

The Wizards outscored Indiana 31-14, outrebounded them 18-4 and essentially won the game in the third. The Pacers, who woke up for a bit in the first half and matched Washington's intensity, began packing their bags for Game 6 at the Verizon Center way too early. After winning three straight and five of six, once again there are questions surrounding the validity of Indiana's title chances. 

In garbage time, the Pacers had their best offensive quarter of the game. They scored 27 points and shot 10-for-19 from the field, but they were still outrebounded by the Wizards in the fourth quarter. Randy Wittman's second unit kept the lead intact, finishing off a 102-79 victory.

The Pacers won both games in Washington this past weekend, so the fact that the next game will be away from home isn't the problem going forward. It's the effort we saw in a close-out game at home. Not surprisingly, Charles Barkley put it best on the TNT postgame show, saying: "It's almost impossible to lose a home game in the playoffs, a close-out game, by 30 points. That's the thing that was disconcerting. In a close-out game at home. That's unbelievable."

Welcome to the 2014 playoffs, where anything the Pacers do is believable.

John Wall

After struggling in the first four games of the series, Wall put the Wizards on his back to extend their season. He outscored the Pacers 17-14 in the third quarter himself, going 6-for-8 from the field with a trio of three-pointers and just one turnover.

Wall finished the game with 27 points, five assists and five rebounds in just a little more than 33 minutes, easily his best effort against the Pacers. He also had fun doing it, barking at the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse while clearly in a zone.

As dominant as he was in the third, Wall was aggressive from the opening tip. Losing with a chance to end the series is one thing, but waking up a slumbering All-Star point guard in the heart of the playoffs series is dangerous.

Marcin Gortat & The Boards

Gortat embarrassed the Pacers' frontline in the game. He outhustled David West and Roy Hibbert for countless rebounds and often came out on top when taking on two or three players for the basketball.

Gortat, who scored 31 points on 13-for-15 shooting, had 16 rebounds. The Pacers had just 23 as a team. Gortat went right at Hibbert on offense and needed only to put a little body on him on the other end of the floor to put himself in position for an easy defensive rebound.

He had seven of Washington's 18 offensive rebounds. The Wizards managed to only score 13 points on those second chances. The final score could have been much uglier.

The Wizards absolutely pounded the Pacers on the glass, finishing with a 62-23 advantage. During the regular season, Indiana had the third-best rebounding differential in the game (+3.5). Washington ranked eighteenth with an even mark (0.0).

Here are the rebounding differentials through five games:

Game 1: Wizards +17 (Washington win)

Game 2: Wizards +5 (Indiana win)

Game 3: Wizards +3 (Indiana win)

Game 4: Pacers +4 (Indiana win)

Game 5: Wizards +39 (Washington win)

I'm not sure if it was by design, but the Pacers spent a lot of time rushing back on defense on their own shot attempts. It may have been to keep the Wizards from getting out on the fast break, but it led to just four offensive rebounds. Washington was also still able to get out on the break because the Pacers shot 39%. They had a 17-10 edge in fast break points.

When a rebounding margin is that vast, desire and hustle are definitely a factor.

Starters vs. Bench

A game after getting all but two of their points from the starters, the Pacers saw the bench be the more productive unit. The bench scored 31 points, even though the figure is skewed due to heavier minutes in the blowout loss. 

George Hill, Paul George and Roy Hibbert combined to score 22 points on 8-for-30 shooting. Hill and George had six of Indiana's 11 turnovers.

It was strange that Frank Vogel left some of his starters in the game as long as he did. George, who admitted that he was gassed after an epic performance on Sunday night, played nearly six minutes in the fourth quarter of a game that had long been decided. He logged 39 minutes and has played at least 36 in each of his 12 playoff games. He has topped forty minutes in eight games.

George Refuses To Lose, Pacers Storm Back In Game 4

It looked very much like an eventual loss early in the second quarter on Sunday night, but the Indiana Pacers showed the most resiliency we've seen from them in months as they rallied to take Game 4, 95-92, over the Washington Wizards.

The victory gives the Pacers, who have won three straight and now five of six games in the playoffs, a 3-1 advantage heading home for Game 5 on Tuesday. They need one more victory to make the Eastern Conference Finals for the second-straight season.

Indiana began the game red-hot, making seven of their first eight shots, but Washington was on point as well. The Wizards went 11-for-19 in the period, while the Pacers cooled down a bit. After the hot start, they went 5-for-12 over the remainder of the first. The Pacers led 27-26 heading into the second quarter. The score represented an offensive explosion in the wake of Game 3, which saw Washington post just 63 points. 

Things went downhill quickly for the visiting Pacers. The Wizards ran up-and-down the floor after missed shots and turnovers, scoring as many points on the fast break (11) and Indiana did in the quarter. The 11 points were a franchise playoff-low for the Pacers.

They shot 3-for-17 with six turnovers in the second, struggling even to convert (4-for-8) at the foul line. The bench was atrocious -- the starters scored an amazing 93 of Indiana's 95 points in the game -- as the Wizards quickly built a commanding lead on the strength of their second unit.

Bradley Beal played the entire quarter, but John Wall, Trevor Ariza, Nene and Marin Gortat combined for a total of just 11 minutes as Andre Miller, Al Harrington and Drew Gooden took over. The 'AARP Group' had 15 points and nine rebounds as Washington took a 55-38 lead into the half. 

If you've spent any time watching this Pacers team over the last few months, you fully expected them to begin packing for home with a 17-point deficit staring them in the face at the Verizon Center. Instead, Paul George made sure that didn't happen.

George caught fire in the third quarter, scoring 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting from three. Roy Hibbert dominated as well, with nine points and seven rebounds, as the Pacers pulled to within a point (72-71) after 12 minutes of much-better basketball.

Frank Vogel rode his starters for nearly the entire quarter and it paid off. The Pacers scored 33 points on 21 shots, outrebounded the Wizards by eight, allowed zero fast break points and didn't send Washington to the line at all. What felt like a blowout loss was suddenly a very winnable game.

The Wizards responded well to begin the fourth, building an 85-76 lead on a pair of Miller free throws at the 7:09 mark. Had the Pacers expended all their energy digging out of the hole they built in the first half? With the game slipping away yet again, George answered the call.

He hit back-to-back threes, kicking off a 14-4 run that gave the Pacers their first lead since the first quarter buzzer. With the defense turned up, the Wizards were unable to execute in the final two minutes. Washington missed all five of their shot attempts, committed a pair of turnovers and missed an important free throw in the final 2:05.

The Pacers also made a few bone-headed plays -- Lance Stephenson's rebound then off-balance pass to no one with 9.2 seconds left will forever live on in Twitter infamy -- but had enough to hold on. It's amazing they weren't arrested for grand theft while leaving the arena late Sunday night.

Paul George

George exploded in Game 4, leading the Pacers with 39 points and 12 rebounds. He was aggressive and assertive, refusing to let his team resign themselves to a loss after falling behind at halftime.

In the second half, George had 28 points, eight rebounds, two steals and a single turnover. He played all 24 minutes and earned himself 10 trips to the foul line (making eight). He shot 7-for-10 in the half, going 6-for-8 from deep, eschewing an inefficient mid-range game.

His play helped the Pacers develop some of the swagger and confidence they displayed over the first half of the season and the results were clearly favorable.

The Starters

No, I'm not talking about J.E. Skeets, Tas Melas, Trey Kerby and Leigh Ellis. The starting five of each team decided this game. The Pacers received 97.9% of their scoring from their starters, while Randy Wittman's crew struggled at home in the most important game of Washington's season.

Bradley Beal was the only starter with a positive +/- thanks to an extended run with the bench unit during the second quarter. John Wall struggled yet again, shooting 4-for-11 with five turnovers. The 23-year-old is averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.8 rebounds on 31.4% shooting with 3.5 turnovers in the semifinals.

His production is a big reason why the Wizards now face elimination. He had the best season of his four-year career, posting 19.3 points, 8.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds on 43.3% shooting and 3.6 turnovers.

Pacers Win Low-Scoring Game 3 Over Wizards

The Pacers scored 51 points in the second half to beat the Wizards in Game 3, which featured some historically bad offense.

Hibbert Rises, Pacers Earn Split Heading To D.C.

Roy Hibbert responded to his critics with 28 points and nine rebounds when the Pacers needed him most, leading his team to an 86-82 win over the Wizards in Game 2.

Pacers Start Slow, Cough Up Home Court Once Again

Bradley Beal played like a postseason veteran in Game 1 as the Wizards beat the Pacers 102-96 and stole home court in the semifinals from the East's No. 1 seed.

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