Despite several comeback attempts by the Indiana Pacers, the Washington Wizards secured early control of the Eastern Conference Semifinals with their fourth road win of the postseason, 102-96.
While the two teams were separated by just six points on the scoreboard, Indiana was only in front for a mere 15-seconds in the second quarter. Other than that, it was all Wizards, all the time.
Washington began the game on a roll and immediately made the hometown crowd a non-factor. Trevor Ariza nailed two of his game-high six three pointers within the first minute of the game to help lead the Wizards to an early 8-0 lead.
Behind 11 first-quarter points from Ariza, Washington found themselves up 28-15 entering the second quarter. As we’ve seen throughout the postseason, however, the Wizards have gotten into a bad habit of letting their opponents back into a game in the second quarter. As we saw Monday night, old habits die hard.
The Pacers started the quarter on a roll with a 14-2 run to take the lead 31-30 with 8:15 remaining in the period. As Washington was able to do throughout the contest, they responded with a run of their own to retake control. After trading shots over the next three minutes, the Wizards pulled away to end the half.
In the final five minutes of the first half, Washington closed on a 15-6 run to take a 56-43 halftime lead. Any sort of momentum that the Pacers had built, the Wizards had quickly taken away. Ariza and Bradley Beal combined to go 3-for-4 from behind the arc in the final push before halftime.
After building a 60-44 lead in the opening minutes of the second half, Indiana began to chip away at the Wizards’ lead. To finish off a third quarter in which the two teams combined for just 32 points, Lance Stephenson scored nine points in the quarter as the Pacers closed the lead to seven on an 18-9 run.
Once again, the Wizards responded. Thanks to two free throws from Drew Gooden (12 points, 13 rebounds) and a three from Andre Miller, Washington widened their lead to 12, 74-62. For much of the fourth quarter, it was a back and forth battle where the Wizards were able to match Indiana shot for shot.
With five minutes remaining, Washington had it’s largest lead of the half, 92-78. All things seemed to be going their way, especially after a technical fouled was assessed to Indiana’s David West. For a third time, however, Indiana began to claw their way back into the contest.
It wasn’t all due to an elevated level of play by the Pacers, unfortunately, as Washington made it’s fair-share of mistakes. Following West’s technical foul, Beal missed three free throws and the Wizards committed several turnovers. With just two minutes remaining, the Pacers were lurking down 10 points.
Washington struggled at the free throw line for much of the second half, but it was their ability to make their freebies in the clutch that iced the game. In the final minute, Indiana made four three pointers. While the Pacers were hot from behind the arc, the Wizards made their final nine free throws to stay out front and secure the victory.
The scoreboard doesn’t show just how much better the Wizards were on this night. Washington out-rebounded Indiana 53-36 and held the advantage in assists 23-16. They made 10 threes and shot 41.7-percent from the floor.
Possibly the biggest advantage for the Wizards was the biggest man of the floor, Roy Hibbert. In 18 minutes, Hibbert failed to score or grab a rebound and committed five fouls. In the paint for the Wizards, Nene and Marcin Gortat combined for 27 points and 21 rebounds (15 rebounds for Gortat).
The front-court battle was also won by the Wizards. While George Hill had 18 points, it’s important to note that six of those came in a meaningless final-minute rally. Paul George finished with 18 points, but Ariza bested that with 22 points of his own.
A new dynamic duo is forming in the NBA with Beal and Wall. Beal poured in a game-high 25 points, seven assists and five steals. While Wall scored just 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting, he recorded a game-high nine assists. Wall was the leader on the floor and Beal took advantage of the opportunities created by him.
Washington is a perfect 4-0 on the road in the playoffs and certainly didn’t seem phased by the Indiana faithful on Monday in their Game 1 victory. The series stays in Indiana for Game 2 on Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 PM EST.