Say what you will about Roy Hibbert’s 28 points and 9 rebounds, the Washington Wizards were not defeated by the Indiana Pacers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Rather, Washington simply lost the game. (Yes…there is a difference.)
The proof is in the pudding, folks, and it’s painfully obvious. Honestly, the fact the Wizards shot themselves in the foot as many times as they did and still had a chance to win should be very encouraging. As the series heads back to D.C. tied at 1-1, there is absolutely no reason to worry about this team.
After three quarters of play, Washington was down just four, 68-64. By no means had they played a solid three quarters of basketball, but Indiana had allowed them to hang around. For a team as explosive as the Wizards can be, that is the last thing you want to do.
Washington then opened up the fourth quarter on a 7-1 run to take the lead 71-69 with 9:00 left. The two teams then traded shots and with five minutes remaining, the Wizards were still up three. Already this postseason, they have proven they are team that can hang on to a late lead.
On Wednesday night, however, everything completely fell apart for Washington in the final five minutes of the game, mentally and physically.
Over the final five minutes, Washington went just 2-for-9 from the field including 1-for-5 from behind the arc. It was their unnecessary desperation on a sloppy sequence of possessions that ultimately did them in.
Down just three with 2:25 left, Washington then proceeded to shoot (and miss) a desperation three on each of their next three possessions. While you can argue that they were trying to tie the game, it’s also fair to say that there was no need for that kind of desperation with so much time left on the clock.
It’s not like the Pacers were scoring at will, either. On the other end of the floor, Washington played solid defense and held Indiana scoreless over that span of possessions. In fact, Indiana would score just four more points in the final 2:25 and two of those were free throws with 10 seconds left. The Wizards essentially spoiled all of their hard work done on defense when they had the ball on offense.
When you look at the box score, it’s obvious to see that the Wizards gave this one away. Washington shot just 5-for-12 from the free throw line while the Pacers shot 18-for-21. Wizards’ big man Nene failed to hit a freebie in his four attempts. For Hibbert, his breakout night continued at the line where he was a perfect 8-for-8.
Now let’s back up to the three-point line, a place where the Wizards also struggled mightily. In the regular season and throughout the postseason, Washington has been a reliable three-point shooting team. They shot 38-percent in the regular season, but that was certainly not the case in Game 2.
Collectively, they went 5-for-21 from behind the arc. John Wall missed all four of his three-point attempts en route to his underwhelming six-point effort. Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza combined to go just 4-for-13. In the regular season, both players shot 40-percent from downtown.
As stated at the beginning of this post, the fact that the Wizards still a chance to win this game in the final minutes is very encouraging. Even with all their struggles, they were able to keep pace with Indiana thanks in most part to their defense. While they struggled offensively, they did out-rebound Indiana (43-38), pick up five steals, three blocks and force seven turnovers.
The series now heads back to D.C. and there honestly isn’t much that needs to be changed with the Wizards. While they do need to figure out a defensive answer for Hibbert, much of their Game 2 problems were on the offensive end of the floor. In the final 2:25 of the game, it was a painful reminder of how young this team is as they fired bad shot after bad shot.
In Game 3, Washington simply needs to settle back down offensively. Set up the high screen and rolls and give Marcin Gortat (who poured in 21 points and 11 rebounds) and Nene a chance to hit those jumpers at the top of the key.
The Wizards just need to get back to what their good at, something that propelled them to their Game 1 victory and has brought them this far in the playoffs.