In Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Washington Wizards handily defeated the Indiana Pacers 102-96. They may have been separated by just six points on the scoreboard, but Washington took care of business like professionals on Monday night.
When it comes to the playoffs, your keys to victory are fairly simple. When you’re the road team, you can’t let the hometown crowd get inside your head. You need to play within yourself. It’s important to play your game and not get outside your comfort zone.
For the Wizards, they did all of those things and more in Game 1. They out-rebounded Indiana by nearly 20 and the play from the front-court tandem of Nene and Marcin Gortat was simply incredible. The duo combined for 27 points and 21 rebounds. All the while, the largest man on the floor, Roy Hibbert, was kept in check during his 18 minuets of play.
Hibbert’s postseason woes continued in Game 1. Save for his two blocks and one assist, it was a pretty dismal performance not worthy of the $14.2 million that he’s making this year. Not only did the All-Star center fail to score a point, but he also didn’t grab a rebound.
Where does that leave us with our keys to victory, then? If the Wizards won in nearly every facet of the game, then why even write a Game 2 preview? Doesn’t it seem like they have this series well in hand? Do they not have a weakness?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The one place where the Wizards could fall victim to the Pacers lies simply within the box score (numbers never lie).
With the exception of 12 points and 13 rebounds from Drew Gooden, the Wizards’ bench was largely ineffective on Monday night. Together, they put up just 15 points, 14 rebounds, one assist and three turnovers. Collectively, the Wizards scored a net of -35 points with their bench. On the other side, Indiana found a spark from their bench that kept them in the game.
For the 15 seconds that the Pacers had the lead in the second quarter, you can attribute much of that to the bench. They scored 17 points in the first half and were responsible for their early-second quarter charge. Indiana’s bench scored 33 points and the team scored a net of just -15 points with their bench players.
By no means was either bench outrageously effective, but there’s no denying that Indiana’s certainly beat Washington’s. While the starting five for the Wizards were no match for Indiana’s, the bench for the Pacers allowed them to hang around. Had the Wizards not made nine straight free throws to end the game, Indiana could have stolen Game 1 from them.
It was a rather uncharacteristically slow night from Washington’s bench. Trevor Booker, a hero off the bench in the Wizards’ Game 5 victory over Chicago, recorded a mere assist and two turnovers in nine minutes of play. Martell Webster, who has been able to provide one-to-two three pointers a game this postseason, missed on his only shot attempt in 16 minutes.
For as good as the starting five has been this season, the bench has also been there to pick them up when they are down. While Nene was out with an injury for much of the second half of the regular season, it was Booker who stepped in and provided eight points and six rebounds in 45 starts.
Likewise, Andre Miller has been a suitable replacement off the bench for Bradley Beal or John Wall. In fact, in the regular season, Miller’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 14.6 was actually .3 points higher than Beal’s. At 15.0, Booker’s PER was even better than that.
Washington has a golden opportunity on Wednesday night to push their lead to two games over the Pacers and be in complete control for another attempt at a series sweep in D.C. Indiana appears to be a frustrated bunch, largely in part to their non-existent big man. According to reports, David West was quite frustrated with Hibbert following their Game 1 loss.
Wall, Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene and Gortat will be physical and aggressive as always, but strong play from the bench in Game 2 would mentally take a toll on the Pacers. In their eyes, there would simply be no let-up in Washington’s game, and they would be on the defensive all night long.
With another strong performance in Game 2, Washington could head home with the Pacers wrapped around their finger. Tipoff is set for 7 PM EST in Indianapolis.