When ordinary beast mode is not enough, it’s time to activate “Godzilla” mode (or “Gojira” mode in Japanese).
That’s exactly what David West did tonight, carrying the Pacers on his back and sending them back into the Eastern Conference Finals for a rematch with the Miami Heat. In the third quarter, when the Wizards attempted to rally back from a 14-point deficit, West put his foot down and scored five field goals to help the Pacers maintain an 8-point lead heading into the final quarter. And then in the fourth, when the Wizards took a 74-73 lead with 8:30 to go, West simply said, “F- this, I’m not letting us lose,” and proceeded to unleash the kaiju within, hitting four long jumpers, the last one giving the Pacers a 13-point lead with 1:27 left. Final score, 93-80. The Pacers come back from an embarrassing game 5 at home to win the series in 6.
To be fair, it wasn’t all just West as all five starters played heavy minutes. Lance Stephenson had by far his best game of the series, getting hot early and finishing with 17, 5 and 8. Paul George had just 12 points, but was solid on defense, as was George Hill, who chipped in with 11. Hibbert was a force defending the rim and also had 11 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. As a team, they held the Wizards to just two field goals in the final 8:29 of the game and just 6 points overall.
There was definitely a different feel right from the outset tonight. Both teams were sharp on offense and executed well, but it was the Pacers who came out with more energy in the first quarter as they built a 6-point lead that doubled to 12 at the half. And after getting outrebounded by an NBA record 39 rebounds last game, the Pacers kept it respectable this time by losing the rebound battle by just two, 40-38, but it’s a solid effort considering Indy missed 35 shots compared to the Wizards’ 48.
So after all that, the Pacers are right where they aimed to be all season long — in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat. The path they took wasn’t quite what we expected, but what matters is they they’re here, and they’ve salvaged what would have been the most epic and inexplicable first seed collapse in NBA history.
Of course Miami, who swept the Bobcats and steamrolled the Nets in 5, are the heavy favorites even though the Pacers have home court advantage this time, but there is hope that maybe the Pacers will finally show up for every game against the two-time defending champs. Right?
Game 1 is on at 3:30pm ET Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (preview coming shortly).