The Indiana Pacers needed the best of Paul George and a late awakening from Roy Hibbert to take a 3-1 lead in their series with the Washington Wizards following a 95-92 win that was the story of two completely different halves, with the Pacers’ defense coming through in the second to put them on the verge of making the conference finals.
Yes, the team everyone enjoyed bashing late in the season and during the first round series, extending to game 1 of the conference semifinals, is heading back to the conference finals unless something unexpected happens. Their defense struggled getting stops or slowing down the Wizards in the first half but not for the first time, with the game on the line everyone stepped up, including Hibbert, scoring 17 points to go with 9 rebounds.
The Real star was Paul George. We’re not seeing too many different things from the Pacers offense compared to when they were playing bad. They simply avoid breakdowns on defense, and they’re making shots. Confidence is the word, and George is oozing with that at the moment. He scored 39 points to go with 12 rebounds, becoming the first Pacers player since 2006 to score 35 points or more in a playoff game.
The Wizards can only blame themselves. They had a 17-point lead at half time. They were up by six points with five minutes remaining in the game. Their offense shut down, and especially their transition game disappeared. After outscoring the Pacers 20-0 in transition during the first half, they added only three points that way during the second half, as Indiana stopped turning the ball over and started making shots.
The Pacers defense forced the Wizards down from 58.3% effective field goal in the first half to 37.8% in the second. Both teams had 93 possessions in the game, but the Pacers shot the ball better, reached the line more and were slightly better when it came to offensive rebounding on account of Hibbert with 5. That, and the superstars stepping up: George for the Pacers, Wall not doing that for the Wizards on another bad shooting night with 12 points on 4-of-11 from the field.
The Wizards still had a chance to win the game. Down by three points and 6.1 second left, they had to inbound the ball, trying to draw up a play similar to the one that helped the Mavs win against the Spurs with a Vince Carter buzzer beater. Bradley Beal took his eyes off the ball for less than a second and lost it, and the Wizards had an embarrassing ending to game 4 which was in their complete control for most of the evening.
Things change quickly in the NBA playoffs; momentum and confidence mean the world in such a short timespan. The Pacers haven’t fixed too many of their problems. Their bench gives them nothing, Paul George is too selfish at times and the ball doesn’t move like it should. Still, Roy Hibbert playing like a good basketball player changes so many things about this team that it doesn’t matter, and they find themselves one win away from making the conference final for a second consecutive season, something that hasn’t happened in 2000 when they got there for a 3rd consecutive time.