by Kent Sterling
It’s deja vu all over again for the Indiana Pacers, and not the good kind of deja vu. Watching this team play before their backs are against a wall is like a recurring case of the mumps.
For the second time in two series, the Pacers blew a chance on their home court to open a seven-game series with a win, and now will need to win at least one game in Washington to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Many of the same symptoms that led to mediocre performances against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round seven-game marathon of weirdness presented themselves again tonight. Roy Hibbert played 18 minutes and tallied goose eggs in points and rebounds, but did manage to collect five fouls. Those 50/50 balls the Pacers started fighting for in games six and seven against the Hawks were snared by the Wizards – particularly on the offensive glass where they created 17 additional possessions.
As bad as Hibbert was – again – David West was just that good with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Hibbert’s +/- was -17, but West’s was a stellar +11 in 38 minutes.
There are two logical reasons for the pathetic start by the Pacers that dug them a 23-10 hole from which they could never quite recover. The Wizards had five days off between series while the Pacers had one, and John Wall’s speed was impossible to be ready for.
In baseball, managers like to follow a soft tossing starter with a hammer time relief pitcher who brings triple digit heat. The difference between an 85 mile and hour fastball and one that hit 100 is stark. It makes a hard fastball look like it explodes out of the pitcher’s hand.
That’s what John Wall did to the Pacers tonight. It’s hard to believe that extremely well-conditioned athletes of the same size could move at such different speeds, but that’s Wall’s gift.
It also didn’t hurt that Trevor Ariza made all six of his three-point attempts.
The Pacers clawed their way back into the game a couple of times – once taking a one-point second quarter lead for 15-seconds, but every time the Pacers got close, the Wizards hit three or four shots to extend the lead back into their comfort zone.
Oddly, after this loss, I am completely confident that the Pacers will win this series. The Pacers missed six shots in the first quarter from within three feet, and for the first time in many weeks actually had some fast break opportunities. Both bode well for the remainder of the series.
Unless I see the Pacers lose the fourth game of this series and clean out their lockers while Washington moves onto the Eastern Conference Finals, I will not believe their season is over.
It’s hard to say which is odder – the Pacers weak play early in series or their resiliency with the season on the line. Strangeness is their calling card. No one ever knows which Pacers team is going to show up on a given night, but they seem to be very capable of winning when they need to – not when they want to, but when they NEED to.
This manic-depressive circus continues Wednesday night, and for most teams it would be an absolute must-win, but I wouldn’t put anything past these Pacers. I have no doubt of the possibility they could be down 2-0 but rally to take the series. Why not? The only thing we can be sure of right now is that their won’t be a Pacers sweep.
The rest of the possibilities are all still right their for the Pacers to take – or to give away.