After six games of brilliance, an out-of-body experience that happily confused everyone, the Washington Wizards reverted to Regular Season Wizards in Game 3 against the Pacers. The offense was a disaster, the free-throw shooting was typically abysmal and John Wall vacillated between breathtakingly brilliant and mind-numbingly frustrating every other possession. In the end, the Pacers came away with a 85-63 win and a 2-1 series lead.
One could call this game the Revenge Of Mid-Range. The Wizards had been scorching from that range all playoffs and regressed to the mean in a huge way. The Wizards hit just 5-25 shots from that range, bricking open and contested looks alike. And with a re-engaged Roy Hibbert shutting off the lane, that killed any hopes of scoring. Any efforts thereafter were out-of-control mad dashes and Hail Mary's that had no shot.
The Wizards started fast-ish, but as the first half went along, the Pacers slowly put their mark on the game. The Wizards tried to push the ball more, but Indiana just wouldn't let them. Pacers perimeter players dropped way back on every shot attempt, an ultra-conservative tactic that limited Washington's fast break. When Trevor Ariza banked in a three early to get the crowd going, Frank Vogel called timeout, a quick decision right out of the Lenny Wilkins mode. Indiana eventually survived the Luis Scola/Evan Turner sequence and turned it back on at the end of the half for a one-point lead. The Wizards kept working for (and missing) mid-range shots, and save for a couple bursts at the half, John Wall seemed wary of driving.
And then Indiana really turned up the screws to start the second. Paul George may not be the most efficient offensive player, but he was all over Bradley Beal. Meanwhile, Wall tried pushing and succeeded once, but turned it over a couple other times when trying hard to get in the open floor. A George-induced turnover led to a three-point play for Lance Stephenson, then a David West jumper pushed the lead to nine with 6:24 left. The Wizards could only get mid-range shots and missed all of them.
It got worse after the timeout. Wall set up Nene twice for point-blank layups, but Nene only converted one of four free throws for his efforts. The Pacers turned up the screws further defensively and got easy looks from patient offense, with George and Stephenson converting backdoor attempts. Wall tried dashing into the lane, but threw up a junk floater that missed badly and missed several free throws. It took a herculean effort to make it a 12-point third quarter.
There was a flicker of hope early in the fourth quarter after Bradley Beal knocked down two mid-range jumpers, but it faded quickly. Ian Mahinmi drew a foul on a roll to the basket and Indiana's slow grind continued. Wall again tried running it down Indiana's throat, but was stripped by George Hill. He eventually took a steal with 8:42 remaining and the Wizards down 13.
Desperate for a spark, Wittman turned to Andre Miller and Al Harrington in a modified AARP Unit look with Trevor Booker in for Drew Gooden, but that didn't work. Two more fouls put the Wizards into the penalty, and an awful Miller turnover on a jump pass convinced Wittman to scrap the unit a minute later.
The Wizards' starters tried, but couldn't gain enough momentum. A three by Beal and a big Harrington offensive rebound were highlights, but the runs were quenched each time by West jumpers. Every time Wall or Beal tried to run a pick and roll, their rhythm was off because Hill and George were playing way up on them. It finally ended for good when the Pacers forced a switch, West backed Wall into the lane to draw another defender and the ball swung to George for a wide open three. That gave Indiana a 17-point lead and sent fans to the exits.
There's lots of blame to go around. Wall will gobble up the lion's share and he was often dreadful, but Beal was 6-19 and Nene was 3-14. The game -- and perhaps the series -- turned when Frank Vogel put George on Beal and Hibbert inched a step up on those pick and rolls. Nene, meanwhile, can't shoot this poorly for the Wizards to have any shot at all.
Man, I'm bummed. I'm not sure what the adjustment is other than making more shots and paying more attention. Indiana's D was in midseason form tonight, and unless the Wizards find some way to generate spacing, there's not much at all Washington can do.