You know, it's weird. All season long, the Wizards have lost close games in frustrating fashion, whether because of coaching decisions, poor play-calling, missed free throws, bad after-timeout execution ... you name it. I've had many nights where I've glared at nobody in particular after a close Wizards loss.
This loss should have put me in that mood. It was down to the wire. It featured a couple of John Wall decisions that can obviously be second-guessed. It featured poor free-throw shooting. It featured the Wizards' defense giving up a Paul George dunk on a very important late play.
Yet, it didn't. I'm actually feeling pretty confident even though it's the playoffs and the Wizards missed a chance to go up 2-0.
Maybe it's because the game was close at all. Credit to the Pacers, because they came to play. Roy Hibbert had his best game since January. They hit critical shots every time the Wizards made a run. They made some excellent adjustments defensively, shutting off the three-point line and making Wall and the Wizards' bigs beat them in the two-man game. They swarmed Nene on double teams in the third quarter, coming only when he was about to pass. They absorbed poor shooting games from Paul George and Lance Stephenson, and both came up big down the stretch. They got a big performance from George Hill, who attacked Wall in pick and roll situations all night.
For all that, Indiana won by four. On their home court. In a must-win game. With Stephenson hitting a contested toe-on-the-line two with the shot clock expiring in the final half-minute to seal it.
I think we saw Indiana's A game, or at least their A- or B+ game. The Wizards, meanwhile, played a C game. Wall's defense was poor, his shot was off and he did pass out of a layup or two. Beal was OK. Nene committed some rough third-quarter turnovers. Trevor Ariza was invisible offensively. Drew Gooden didn't have quite the same offensive impact as he did in Game 1 and was just as bad defensively. Marcin Gortat was good, as was Andre Miller, but nobody else really played great. Despite that, they were right there on the road against a desperate team. This felt more like the Mike Dunleavy Game than any regular-season collapse.
I will say that I think criticism of Wall's late-game decision-making is somewhat unfair. The first missed three came off an offensive rebound, and we've seen Wall take those all season. The second one was an open look, and there wasn't nearly as much of a transition opportunity as one would think. Look at this play again.
The pass to Nene isn't open, and Hill is generally very good at closing out without letting guys drive by him. Ideally, Wall finds a way to get to the rim, but Hill could easily cut him off. That leaves shooting or pulling it out, and I prefer the former with a chance to tie the game instead of letting Indiana's stifling half-court defense get set. Adam McGinnis of Truth About It astutely pointed out that it resembled this shot to beat Golden State earlier in the year. (Wall shot 6-19 that game, by the way).
It's a make or miss league. Let's be careful to judge shot selection by process, not outcome. I am more frustrated with Wall's defense than his late-game decision making.
Regardless, we know this series is winnable. This loss stings, but the larger takeaway is that the Wizards have outplayed the Pacers thus far and now have home-court advantage.
I'll be on The Sports Junkies at 8:40 a.m. to talk about this game. Listen live here if you're not commuting.
Wall on his late-game performance:
"I didn't play great. I feel like I lost the game for my team," said Wall, who has shot 32.7 percent (34 of 104 ) in seven postseason games. "The criticism is going to be on me if we win or lose, and I take the blame. That's what I'm supposed to do as a point guard."
Man, the Pacers love to fish:
"I seriously believe that the biggest person that helped me out here tonight was Paul," Hibbert said, a statement made more meaningful by the fact that the Pacers have been dealing with rumors of chemistry problems. "We fished for about two hours and just relaxed and didn't talk about basketball. We just talked about life and tried to catch some bass. He reached out and got my mind off things and this is hopefully something I can build on. He's a great teammate, so I really do appreciate him reaching out ‘cause he didn't have to."
In their defense, fishing is very relaxing.
Poor Marcin Gortat:
So bizarre. I was the only reporter in room for start of Marcin Gortat's first playoff podium interview. MG thanked me afterward #wizards— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) May 8, 2014
That had to be a strange moment for Gortat. Waited whole career for a #podiumgame & once it came, one dude was sitting there to talk to him— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) May 8, 2014
That's what happens when you lose, I guess.
It's getting out of hand with Indy Cornrows, so I'm going to issue this proclamation: no more congregating in their postgame threads. Other threads are fair game, especially ones that involve analysis of the game the next day, but leave the postgame thread alone. It's their place to react to the game and we've overrun it, often rudely, throughout this series. Folks that do it will be subject to bans if you rile them up.
Please respect their space immediately after games. Thanks.
(Another note: if a Pacers fan is rudely overrunning our threads, flag and move on. DO NOT ENGAGE. We did ban one guy last night, but it's a real headache dealing with this after every game).
A good point by Indy Cornrows here:
The biggest thing to happen tonight was to see Roy Hibbert's first look go. For whatever reason, his recent games have been dictated on his very first attempt and when it went in, it set the tone for a dominating offensive performance, the big dawg with 28 points, nine rebounds, and a pair of blocks going his way. Hibbert was 10-13 from the floor and 8-8 from the line.
That first look was an absurd 21-foot jumper at the shot clock buzzer. Sometimes, you just need to tip your cap.
More thoughts from me on last night are here. (Scroll down to No. 3).