- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - For the final 1½ months of the regular season, and the first eight games of the playoffs, the Indiana Pacers‘ suddenly sloppy play raised all sorts of questions.

Why did Paul George and Co. go from one of the NBA’s top teams to a mediocre one?

How did coach Frank Vogel’s team lose its way?

Could the Pacers right things in time?


“Sometimes teams go through tough stretches. We just went through ours toward the end of the year. But we were playing (great) basketball in the beginning of the year. Normally it’s the complete opposite - going through struggles early and figuring it out,” guard George Hill said. “Now we’re starting to get back, and things are starting to click the right way. And we’re starting to get our mojo back.”

It all starts with defense, the single most important reason the Pacers own a 2-1 lead over the Washington Wizards heading into Sunday night’s Game 4 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.

After allowing John Wall and the Wizards to take Game 1 with 102 points, the Pacers have won two in a row by limiting Washington to 82 in Game 2, then a franchise-record-low 63 in Game 3.

“That’s what we want to be,” Vogel said. “We had great regular-season success by being a dominant defensive team - limiting the 3-ball, keeping teams out of transition, limiting teams to one shot, being a dominant defensive rebounding team - and that’s who our identity is.”

Giving up an average of 92.3 points in the regular season, Indiana ranked second among 30 NBA teams in defense.

In Friday’s 85-63 road victory, the Pacers limited the Wizards to 12 points in the third quarter and 30 in the second half. Washington made 25 percent of its 3-point attempts and 33 percent of all field-goal tries. Wall alone had seven turnovers - although from early in the third quarter, he was dealing with a scratched right eye that made it so he “could barely see,” he explained Saturday.

“I wouldn’t just put it all on John,” said shooting guard Bradley Beal, who was hounded by George and shot 6 for 19 overall, 1 for 5 on 3s. “He’s only one guy. There’s four other guys out there, and there’s 12 total who are able to play.”

One key adjustment by the Pacers in Game 3 was working to slow Washington’s quick pace by sending players back on defense instead of emphasizing offensive rebounding.

Repeatedly, George or Lance Stephenson would get down court quickly and help Hill slow Wall.

“They didn’t make anything easy. They were all together on one page on the defensive end,” Beal said, adding: “I didn’t feel comfortable.”

That’s what Indiana did to Washington in November, when the Pacers won 93-73. And again in January during a 93-66 victory.

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