by Kent Sterling
Mistakes were plentiful throughout. Twenty turnovers are hard to overcome, but the Pacers kept fighting throughout the last 24 minutes, and where there is fight, there is hope.
Tonight’s Game Four was the kind of game champions win. Down 19 points early in the second half, the Pacers stayed the course and clawed their way back into the game, and then finished it strong to post a 95-92 that gives them three chances to close this series and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
I’m sure they would prefer to need only one to get the job done with Tuesday night’s Game Five in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
In the playoffs, all it takes is one terrible stretch to lose, and the Pacers had a tough run that lasted an entire quarter when nothing went right. The Wizards outscored the Pacers 29-11 in the second as Andre Miller, Drew Gooden, and Al Harrington turned back the clock like Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, and Hume Cronyn did in “Cocoon.”
Not sure whether that trio swam in an alien infested pool like those film geezers to rejuvenate themselves, but the result was nearly a tied series as they combined for 15 points, nine boards, three, steals, and three blocks during their time together in the quarter that almost tied the series at two wins each. Whatever they bathed themselves in, the Pacers must have gotten a little of it at halftime, and then again when the Wizards scored off nine straight points after the Pacers tied the score at 74.
From the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Pacers finished with a 19-7 run to put the Wizards in a hole so deep with walls so slippery that climbing out appears impossible.
Paul George led all scorers with a career playoff high of 39 points in just 20 field goal attempts, and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead all players. He hit 7-10 three pointers, and picked up two steals – one on the last Wizards possession that sealed the deal for the Pacers.
Roy Hibbert played like an all-star again – particularly in the second half. His 17 points and nine rebounds were right in the sweet spot the Pacers need from him. David West chipped in 14 points and eight assists, many of them in the first half, helping the Pacers remain in distant contact with the Wizards.
But the guy whose play was spectacularly steady as usual was George Hill. The Pacers are very, very tough to beat when Hill scores 15 points as he did tonight. When he has a +/- of +9 or better, the Pacers are 6-0 in this postseason. As little ink as Hill gets, his level of play is a huge indicator of whether the Pacers will be successful.
On the negative side, the bench was awful – outscored 32-2, and Lance Stephenson likely played a better game than fans believed as they watched live. That’s as nicely as Stephenson’s effort can be put. His six turnovers were ugly, but the six assists and nine boards were integral to the Pacers success. Suffering through a game where Lance is off his game isn’t too painful when it’s in a win.
Now, the question becomes whether the Pacers will continue to choke the air out of the Wizards in Game Five and end this series at the first opportunity – or allow the Wizards to steal one at Bankers Life Fieldhouse giving them a chance to win a home game to force a Game Seven?
MMA champions sense weakness in an opponent and lock them in a submission hold at the first sign of self-doubt, and that is what the Pacers need to do Tuesday night. Allowing the Wizards to stay in the fight longer than is necessary will make ending their postseason more and more difficult.
Doing it the easy way hasn’t been part of the Pacers playbook after game 40 of the regular season, but they are starting to show the stuff of a mature, hardened, and determined playoff team.
What’s next for this team became slightly easier to predict tonight – slightly.