- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 11, 2014

Even though the scoreboard showed his Washington Wizards holding a 17-point halftime lead over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night, John Wall knew the outcome remained firmly in doubt.

This was, after all, the Wizards – a team that had surrendered a 17-point lead in a regular-season loss to San Antonio, and a team that, for some reason or another, hasn’t been able to figure out how to keep its intensity high after halftime.

“They outscored us every game in this series in the third quarter,” Wall said. “Even though we knew we had the lead, it was never safe.”

Behind 39 points from Paul George, including 13 in the third quarter and 15 in the fourth, the Pacers completed the comeback at Verizon Center, defeating the Wizards 95-92 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the teams’ second-round playoff series.

That means the Pacers are in position to close out the best-of-seven series with a victory at home on Tuesday in Game 5.

Bradley Beal, one of six players to reach double figures in scoring, had 20 points for the Wizards, who have now lost three consecutive games after taking the Game 1 victory in Indianapolis last Monday.

Trevor Ariza had 16 points and nine rebounds, Wall had 12 points and seven assists and Nenê added 10 points.

Washington’s lead hit 19 points early in the third quarter, but that was the only high it would experience during that period. The Pacers virtually erased the 55-38 halftime deficit by the end of the quarter, trimming the Wizards‘ lead to just one point, 72-71, after embarking on a 20-4 run over the final 6:02.

The final nail came not even 90 seconds into the fourth quarter when George, who set a playoff career high in scoring and tied a franchise playoff record with seven 3-pointers, sank the free throw awarded after he drew the foul on a floater.

The Wizards have now lost 12 games this season in which they once held a double-digit lead, though none of the defeats will sting as much as the one on Sunday.

“At this point and time in the year, you can’t afford that – especially against a good team,” said forward Al Harrington. “At the end of the day, they’re an elite team. They were No. 1 in our conference. Take our hats off to them. They did what they were supposed to do by winning the game. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board.”

It was because of Harrington, who had 11 points and six rebounds, and the rest of the Wizards‘ bench that the lead reached the margin it did. The second unit outscored Indiana’s bench 32-2, and it was primarily responsible for a 29-point second quarter that had Washington thinking at halftime it would be able to return home for Game 6 on Thursday.

Andre Miller played 16 minutes in relief of Wall and had seven points and four assists, while Drew Gooden, who has been reliable as the sixth man in this series, had 10 points and four rebounds in 27 minutes.

They could only do so much. After the Wizards fell apart in the third quarter, defensive miscues abound, the bench again exerted its will, muscling the advantage back to nine points with 7:51 remaining when Gooden drained a long jumper from the top of the arc.

George, who scored 23 points in the Pacers‘ Game 3 victory, again carried his teammates to the finish. He knocked down a pair of 3-pointers midway through the quarter to cut Indiana’s deficit to three points, then gave his team its first lead since the end of the first quarter with a pair of free throws with 2:24 to play.

In all, George scored 12 of his team’s final 19 points, giving Indiana the lead for good by making another pair of free throws with 1:47 remaining.

“The first quarter I kind of got into a rhythm and I was looking to come out and be aggressive, just make plays and try to push tempo, get us going on a good start to start this game of,” George said. “And my teammates found me. Shot after shot, it came from someone finding me and setting me. We couldn’t have won without them.”

Roy Hibbert added 17 points and nine rebounds for the Pacers, who shot 45.2 percent from the floor and committed 20 turnovers, but finally won the rebounding battle for the first time in the series, taking a 40-36 advantage on the boards.

They also held one other advantage for the first time: The 27-26 lead entering the second quarter marked the first time the Wizards were not at least tied with their opponent after the first 12 minutes during the entire postseason.

The loss means the magical run may be ending soon for Washington. The last team to fall down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series and advance was in 2006, when the Phoenix Suns topped the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, and only eight teams have pulled off such a feat since 1968.

That feeling of desperation coach Randy Wittman has preached to his players since the postseason began three weeks ago will be tested on Tuesday.

“We’ve got to take it one game at a time,” Wittman said. “We’ve got to go back to Indy. We’ve got to win one game, and then we’ll worry about Game 6 after Game 5. But three of the four games have been a dogfight. We’re in the fight, and now we’ve just got to win that fight.”

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