May 5, 2014, 10:38 PM EDT
Frank Vogel called one timeout and then another.
His Indiana Pacers were getting battered by the upstart Washington Wizards, and not even eight minutes in, he was running out of possible solutions.
At that point, the Pacers had twice as many of their shots blocked (six) as had gone through the hoop (three). And that’s when Indiana could even get off a shot. The symmetrically out-of-sync Pacers had five turnovers, each starter with one.
Can an underdog end a series in Game 1? The Wizards, crushing the East’s No. 1 seed, seemed on the verge.
Well, this won’t be that quick a quick knockout. The Pacers eventually got off the mat and even landed a few punch-drunk right hooks late, but that’s about all they did.
The Wizards took Game 1 102-96 Monday, and if they didn’t take the series in one night, they at least positioned themselves as unquestioned favorites.
So this series won’t be easy for Washington? The Wizards hadn’t won a second-round game since 1982. This isn’t supposed to be easy.
Even if it looked that way early.
Washington jumped to an 8-0 lead, fell asleep a bit and then expanded its lead to 16 points. The Pacers led for 15 seconds the entire game, a possession in the second quarter. Otherwise, until the closing minutes, the Wizards cruised with a steady onslaught of quality play:
- Bradley Beal (25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals) was the game’s best two-way player.
- Trevor Ariza made all six of his 3-point attempts to score 22 points
- Drew Gooden (12 points and 13 rebounds in 18 minutes) was everywhere, especially wherever the ball was headed off the offensive glass.
- John Wall (13 points, nine assists, one turnover and two blocks) controlled Washington’s offense and played excellent transition defense.
- Marcin Gortat (12 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks) fortified the middle.
- Nene (15 points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocks) made solid contributions on both ends.
That’s way too much for Indiana – at least this Indiana – to overcome. The Pacers barely beat the 38-44 Hawks. How are they going to get competitive with Washington?
Due to Roy Hibbert (zero points, zero rebounds, five fouls and two turnovers in 18 minutes) more than anyone, the Pacers’ starting lineup – a mainstay among the NBA’s best over the last two years – has lost its effectiveness. That unit was outscored by eight points in 12 minutes Monday.
Vogel is left mixing and matching whatever starters haven’t self-destructed with C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland to form cohesive lineups. That scattered approach can work – Indiana went on a late 7-1 run before George Hill made 3-pointers on three of the Pacers’ final four possessions – but it’s tough to win a game, let alone a series, that way.
Especially against the feisty Wizards.
Washington’s ability to win anywhere puts even more pressure on the Pacers. The Wizards opened round one in Chicago and didn’t settle for a single win, coming home with a 2-0 series lead. There’s no reason to believe they can’t do the same in Game 2 Wednesday.
Already possessing four road wins in these playoffs, Washington has shown a resiliency becoming of a conference finalist. In the last eight years, all 21 teams with four road wins in a postseason reached the conference finals.
Lady Gaga? The Wizards might not need to worry.
They didn’t end this series in one. But four? That’s still on the table.
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