There's a reason why so many pundits pegged the Pacers to win this series, even though they were taken to the brink by an Al Horford-less Atlanta Hawks team and were inches away from perhaps the biggest meltdown in league history.
It's for the same reasons those same pundits picked the Chicago Bulls in the first round. The Pacers are a defensive force and were well on their way to becoming one of the all-time great units of this generation after blitzing the league in the first two months of the season. Like Chicago, they swallow up dribble penetration by clogging the lane and stationing Roy Hibbert right under the basket to thwart any forays to the rim. They use their wing defenders to hound you off screens, and when they're not doing that, they're expertly playing passing lanes.
All of this took a toll on Washington's offense in Game 3. They amassed just 10 assists on 24 made field goals with 17 turnovers and 4-16 shooting from deep. John Wall again looked helpless. He pushed the ball off misses whenever he saw fit, only to be met by Paul George as he crosses halfcourt.
George doesn't even care that Evan Turner is all alone defending two three-point shooters in Ariza and Webster. Ian Mahinmi is still backpedaling, C.J. Watson is getting beat down floor, and Wall has a chance to get right to the hoop. But the four Pacers in tandem makes Wall reset and also causes him to miss Webster cutting to the hoop unimpeded.
But more importantly, Wall couldn't figure out how to attack the basket. He took a more measured approach not to settle for jumpers than in Game 2, but just couldn't solve Indiana's scheme. The spacing was never optimal in the first place, but to make matters worse, he couldn't get by George Hill. And on the occasions that he did, he failed to manipulate the space in front of him and settled for awkward floaters over Hibbert's outstretched arms.
That's where Wall's biggest problems were. He was able to get in the lane through rescreen action or simply rejecting picks, but once he got there he had no idea what to do. He didn't have his usual poor shooting night, and that has more to do with him simply not settling for jumpers.
I'd actually argue that him crossing into the middle was a bad idea. Normally it opens up more of the floor, but he'd probably have been better served staying on his side of the floor and giving Gortat a chance to roll into his lane.
That led to another wild floater, this time with his right hand while he's moving towards his left. It took LeBron James a full offseason of work just to develop a floater to cope with Hibbert's verticality, Wall's not there yet. This is not his game, and I'd rather him just pull the ball back out and reset.
Washington's going to have to find ways to mask their spacing deficiencies. This is a make or miss league, and right now they're not making Indiana pay from midrange the way they did Chicago. But I don't think they can afford changes to the rotation, not when Hibbert and West are throwing their weight around like they are now. Their best remedy at this point is getting out on the break, and the only way they do that is through getting stops and rebounding.
There shouldn't be instances where Wall is walking the ball up court. The ball movement has to be better, and if they think running a high pick and roll with Wall or a Bradley Beal handoff with Nene while the others camp on the perimeter will work, this series won't make it to Washington for a sixth game.
Attacking from the sides is their best bet. It keeps Hibbert from just surveying the floor and engaging ball handlers in the lane, but it also keeps their wings from crashing down into the paint so freely.
This is one of my favorite plays because of all the screening going on. It starts off looking like another Beal handoff with George fighting through a pair of staggered screens, but then Wall will flare out and Beal will deliver the pass just as Wall's man gets screened off. Wall gets David West to jump out, and he's able to suck in the defense in the lane to get Ariza a corner three.
Wall and Beal simply looked overwhelmed in Game 3. It was manageable in round one because it didn't take much to outscore the Bulls, but this is an entirely new matchup against a better defense that is slowly finding its offense. Randy Wittman has to adjust to get the ball moving quicker in these sets or his team will be headed back to Indy in a precarious spot.