Indiana started off this series horribly, falling into a 1-0 hole and looking bad doing it. Then they ran off three straight wins, and it looked like all the questions about returning to the Eastern Conference Finals would be answered.
Then Game 5 happened.
Washington routed Indiana on its home court, and now head back to the capital with hope renewed. One would expect the Pacers to take one of the next two games and advance — but who knows with this team?
To get some perspective, we asked our 8p9s scribes — plus FanSided head honcho and Pacer follower Adam Best — a few questions.
Game 5 was rough. How do you imagine the Pacers are feeling heading into a big game in Washington?
Tim Donahue: God only knows. Walking around the locker room after Game 5, it seemed that the players don’t have any better understanding of what they’re going through than we do on the outside. They’re like a car full of kids on a family trip, asking, “Are we there, yet?” every five minutes, and the answer — every time — is “No.” They aren’t “there” in terms of sustained play, and they aren’t “there” in terms of finally getting to face off against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. The feelings probably include anger, disappointment, embarrassment, and confusion. None of which are things you typically assign to a team you take seriously as a contender.
Adam Best: I hated seeing the premature coronation of Paul George with the sudden emergence of the “King George” moniker. I hated reading Bob Kravitz’s exclamation that Roy Hibbert was back after only three quality games in a row. I hated the media switching its focus from Wiz/Pacers to Heat/Pacers before the series was officially over. This is a team that clearly can’t handle being a front-runner. They can’t handle their own hype. The Pacers play better with their backs against the wall. So maybe their Game 5 no-show has the Pacers right where they need to be.
Jalen Bishop: Stressed. The Heat have closed their series, and I’m sure the Pacers watched. They want to move on to Miami. When a team is up 3-0, 3-1, or 3-2 in a series, it’s sort of assumed that the team ahead is going to close out the first game. Now they get their second shot.
Will Rettig: Indiana probably doesn’t feel very pleased with the way the entire playoffs have gone, and Game 5 was no different. They’ll tell you they had a good practice and feel confident, but I believe they’ll play as if the series is supposed to be handed to them.
Ben Gibson: At this point it seems obvious the Pacers have a dual personality and guessing which one shows up tonight seems foolhardy. That said, they have seemed to show up when they had to. Game 6 isn’t a must win, but with Miami advancing last night I think the Pacers know they need to rest before the ECF. I feel like they’ll win tonight, but that’s a guess, and not an educated one.
The inability to rebound — or, really, even compete for rebounds — was the team’s downfall in Game 5. Do you think they’ll struggle on the glass in Game 6, too?
Donahue: Yes. Because of the way the Pacers sell out to challenge at the rim and to force long, contested 2s, much of their rebounding success is predicated on mobility. With George and Lance aggressively hitting the glass, the Pacers will control it most nights. But in this series, they’re pulled away from the basket by floor spacers Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza. That’s leaving West and Hibbert to try to control the glass, and those two are just a step slower than the Wizards. They should be able to stay close on the boards, but they will struggle to win the battle there.
Best: Washington is a tough rebounding match-up for the Pacers. Hibbert and West have absolutely no bounce in their game, which is why George and Stephenson (and sometimes Hill) routinely sky over them for defensive rebounds. The problem is that Ariza, Beal, Wall, and Co. are just as athletic as their Indiana counterparts. What the Pacers guards and swing players have to be is smarter and stronger than the Wizards. In Game 5, Hill ran right by what looked like an easy defensive rebound, somehow thinking you can initiate a fast break without the ball. Gortat snatched the rebound and scored. Ariza weighs 75 pounds soaking wet. Lance should Hulk up and throw him around like a rag doll. Yet Ariza is snatching boards over the Coney Island product’s back with ease.
Bishop: Probably, but not as bad as Game 5. A rebounding differential that large isn’t likely to occur for some time. The Pacers will get boards on timely bounces, and Lance’s hyper aggressiveness helps. West could have between 5-8. George, Hill and C.J. Watson can grab a couple long misses each. But it won’t come easy. Washington is grabbing nearly 54% of total rebounds during the playoffs, which leads the NBA.
Rettig: The Wizards will control the glass in Game 6 yet again. Coach Randy Wittman has done a great job of pushing his guys to out-hustle their opposition. The Pacers don’t have the drive or urgency to block their men out and dominate the boards like they’ve done in the past.
Gibson: I think it will be more even in Game 6 just because, even for these up and down Pacers, that felt more like Washington hitting the gas and wanting to stay alive while the Pacers were in cruise control. I think we’ve seen if the Pacers want it, they can even out that number. I don’t think they get out rebounded 62-23 two nights in a row. Again, I think this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde team will put its better foot forward tonight.
What’s the biggest thing Indiana needs to do to win Game 6?
Donahue: Same thing as always: Drag Washington into a slogging half court game. In the three Pacer wins, the pace has averaged 90 possessions per game. In the two losses, it’s been over 95. Slowing the game down has made Washington impatient, and that has helped the Pacers.
Best: Bench Evan Turner for chrissakes. Besides that? Be aggressive, assertive, decisive. Fully commit to picks and rebounds and passes and floor-spacing. If you’re PG, attack the rim with a vengeance. Believe that unless you get hammered, you will be the hammer. If you’re Lance, attack the hoop in transition instead of forcing half-court hero ball and telegraphing defenders to take a charge. Where was the George Hill that pushed John Wall on D, slowing down Wall’s O? Where was David West, the sure-handed facilitator? Where was the Roy Hibbert that took it personally when easy buckets were surrendered on his rim? The Pacers have more talent; they can’t be outplayed, but they can be outworked
Bishop: Get Paul George more touches early and often. Coming off screens and spot ups that lead to catch-and-shoot threes, specifically. George leads the playoffs with 87 catch-and-shoot points, per player tracking data. That’s more than Kevin Durant, J.J. Redick, and Trevor Ariza. Let’s start there, Frank. Sprinkle in pick-and-rolls with George as the ball handler, too. Keep him active so he doesn’t drift and take fadeaway jumpers on the baseline. Yuck.
Rettig: Indiana has to get Paul George open looks because he’s played very well the entire postseason, save a handful of plays. Vogel should also try breaking the ice, for lack of a better phrase, and make adjustments during the game rather than only altering his plan of attack in between games.
Gibson: Defense. You can’t rely on George and Hibbert having amazing nights offensively, but it doesn’t seem to be too much to ask for Indiana to play solid defense and not give the God of Rebounds another amazing night on the glass. Washington’s rebound margin of 39 was the widest in an NBA playoff game since 1985, according to NBA.com. Gortat had 16 rebounds on Tuesday, I’d like to think the Pacers won’t let that happen again.
Regardless of how the Pacers looked in Game 5, will they still get to the Eastern Conference Finals?
Donahue: At this point, I think this series is a toss up. On balance, the Wizards have played more good basketball in the series than the Pacers have. The Pacers should have given themselves enough of a cushion to survive their erratic ways, but it is practically impossible to have any faith in this team. What this will come down to is whether or not Hibbert can be productive. He doesn’t need to dominate, but he’s got to at least give performances at the level of Game 7 vs. Atlanta and Game 4 in this series. If he doesn’t, then the entire team becomes about making Roy feel better about himself. They were able to work around it against a dreadful Atlanta team, but that won’t against Washington.
Best: Yes. One of these last two games will be close, and the Wizards are anything buy magic in pressure-cooker situations. Even if enjoy late leads, I think their inexperience paired with the Pacers stifling D will lead to another choke job.
Bishop: Yes (/gulps). Besides Game 5, Indiana has hindered Wall’s accuracy beyond the rim, but Washington won Game 2 and 4 with him shooting below 40%. The Wizards displayed they can win with Wall shooting poorly by leveraging Marcin Gortat down low and Bradley Beal on the perimeter. Nene at the elbow surveying traffic and heaving 17-footers is still an issue. I’m sure Trevor Ariza is still on fire in the corner somewhere. Even if the Wizards pull off a Game 6 win, I like Indiana’s chances at home.
Rettig: I would not be shocked if the Pacers did not reach the Eastern Conference Finals, but I do expect them to make it, even if Washington forces a Game 7 in the semifinals. It’s highly unlikely Indiana drops two more against the Wizards.
Gibson: It is hard to win three straight games for any team. The Pacers did, but I doubt the Wizards will. George said the team knows it gets too comfortable and complacent at times, but I doubt they feel very comfortable letting this series get away from them. Unless John Wall’s Game 5 turns out to be his breakout party, I think it’s hard to see Washington winning two more games while a complacent Indiana team watches them.
Will Indiana end this series in Game 6?
Donahue: It would absolutely be the most 2014 Pacer thing to do for them to come out and just handle the Wizards. And by that, I mean it would make absolutely no sense whatsoever — just like this team. I don’t expect it to happen though. I think Washington wins Game 6, relatively easily.
Best: Hard to see them winning three games in a row at the Verizon Center. The Pacers finally close out in another Game 7 blowout, making this series a blue-and-gold rollercoaster for Indiana fans. Hey, that’s what they do.
Bishop: Yes. The Pacers have won four of their last five on the road. Paul George is a beast on the road during the playoffs. He’s averaging a ridiculous 24.4 points, 10.4 rebounds on 48% shooting from the 3-point line. That’s enough evidence for me to pick (/gulps again) the Pacers. What kind of music playlist does PG listen to on the road? The new Lil Wayne and Drake track? As Drake said, “I’m the only one that get the job done.” “Believe me.”
Rettig: Indiana continues its most-unusual season and ends up back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for a winner-takes-all Game 7 vs. Washington.
Gibson: Maybe? I’ve given up on trying to figure out if Good Pacers or Bad Pacers are going to show up in a given game. I literally asked my dog Tucker which one will show in Game 6. He seemed to signal Good Pacers, so let’s go with that.
Tags: Indiana Pacers