I said before the start of the series that the winner of game 1 will probably win the series. The Washington Wizards did that tonight, 102-96, and there’s no reason to doubt they won’t send the Pacers home for a long summer.
The final six-point margin was not indicative of how much better the Wizards looked tonight (George Hill hit a few desperation threes at the end to make it look competitive). They were like the Hawks in terms of giving the Pacers trouble defensively, except they were efficient from the outside (10-16 from three-point range, with Trevor Ariza going 6-6 for 22 points), AND they were solid from the inside, with Nene (15 points) scoring on mid-range jumpers at will. Bradley Beal (25 points) was hitting crazy jumpers like Jeff Teague, and John Wall (13, 9 and 5) controlled the pace even though he didn’t have a good shooting night (4-14).
The Wizards were rested and confident, so the fact that they were hitting their open, and sometimes even contested, jumpers, was not shocking. But what was shocking was the Pacers being hammered 53-36 on the rebounds, including giving up 17 offensive rebounds. I dunno what’s more embarrassing — watching Drew Gooden of all people fly in with no one around him to grab 7 offensive rebounds or the fact that the Pacers had ONE defensive rebound in the entire fourth quarter.
If you want to know who to blame, look no further than Mr Hibbert again. In 18 minutes, Hibbert had another double-zero — no points, no rebounds, 2 turnovers and 5 fouls — the third time in the playoffs he has no contributed in terms of points or boards. That one decent performance in game 7 against the Hawks, as it turned out, was an anomaly. There are no “opponent big men like shooting threes” excuses this time. Hibbert stunk, plain and simple.
Paul George struggled against Ariza on defense, as he did in the regular season, scoring 15 on 4-17 shooting. Some of them were good looks, but like the entire team, he couldn’t get anything to drop (just 40.7% from the field as a whole). The carry-over fatigue from the Hawks series undoubtedly played a role, but the lack of effort and the lack of execution was atrocious. So many WTF moments throughout the game, from rushed (and squandered) second-chance opportunities, stupid fouls, sloppy turnovers and the good old “wind down shot clock for one-on-one bad mid-range” set play. Walking the ball up when your team is down 9 with 2 minutes to go. Wasting 3-5 seconds before intentional fouls to stop the clock. Playing Roy Hibbert and Roy Mahinmi at the same time for the first time all season (albeit for 10 seconds). There were just head scratchers all round.
The only guy who didn’t look like a deer in the headlights out of the starters was David West, who had a 15-12 double-double but missed a lot of shots he ordinarily makes. Lance had no answer for Beal on the defensive end and struggled to protect the ball, coughing up 4 turnovers and finishing 4-13 from the field for 12 and 6 stat line.
The Pacers bench appears to be the only advantage they have in this series, and they were the reason why the Pacers came back briefly from a 13-point deficit to take a lead in the second quarter. Luis Scola struggled staying in front of his man and picked up a lot of bad fouls as usual, but you can’t fault his effort. He had 12 and 5 on 6-12 shooting and was effective from the mid-range. Evan Turner had 7 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 19 minutes and probably should have had more floor time. Ian Mahinmi fared better than Hibbert (hard not to), but he didn’t exactly have a good game, failing to grab a rebounding 12 minutes. Never a good sign when your center duo score a total of 2 points with zero rebounds.
CJ Watson was good too with 9 points in 15 minutes, and I have no idea why Vogel won’t give more of Hill’s minutes to him. Hill did have 18 to lead the team, but half of those points came on desperation threes in the final 32 seconds, when the game was effectively out of reach.
And so the Pacers find themselves down 0-1 for the second consecutive series, but this time it won’t be as easy to turn things around because the Wizards are legit. Unlike most people, I’m not quite ready to write the Pacers off just yet, but they’ll have to make adjustments to stand a chance. After giving Copeland significant minutes for the first time all year, Vogel only gave Copeland a single minute tonight in what was essentially garbage time, though Cope still hit a three. It’s clear Vogel will have to roll the dice with Copeland at some point, but why not sooner rather than later?
Paul George was frank during the post-game press conference. “”(It) comes down to us having heart and rebounding the ball. We need our big fella to rebound the ball for us…”
But really, that’s just one of many things the Pacers need to sort out. There’s the broken offense, the hesitant defense, the the lack of intensity and the lack of trust in each other. None of these are fixable in a short time, but what other choices do they have?
Despite how bad things went tonight, there are still a couple of positives to dig out from the stat sheet. The Pacers had 20 fast break points, the most they’ve had in months, and they only had 13 turnovers, which is pretty good for them. They also missed a lot of wide open shots while the Wizards made some tough ones. And they never got down 20 like they were against the Hawks.
“We’ve got faith,” PG said after the game. “We’ve got faith that everything will be good on our end.”
At this point, that’s all they have.