INDIANAPOLIS — Bradley Beal woke up Tuesday morning with a special feeling. He went to sleep in the wee hours of Wednesday morning with it, too.
Marcin Gortat tied a career high with 31 points, John Wall added 27, and the Washington Wizards, facing elimination in their second-round series against the Indiana Pacers, won 102-79 in Game 5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
That means the Wizards will have at least one more home game, prolonging the best-of-seven series — and their season — for two more nights with Game 6 looming at Verizon Center on Thursday.
They also won their 50th game of the season on Tuesday, marking the first time since 1979— when they last advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals — they crossed that threshold.
Few teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit and advanced to the next round of the playoffs; the last to do so was the Phoenix Suns, who topped the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round in 2006.
“I love to be in this situation.,” Beal said before Game 5. “It’s a lot of pressure, but at the same time, why not try to make history out of it?”
Indiana’s Paul George, who had a playoff career-high 39 points in Game 4 on Sunday, had 15 on 5-of-15 shooting. David West had a team-high 17, while Roy Hibbert, reawakened in the last three games after being held without a point or rebound in the Wizards‘ Game 1 victory, had just four points and two rebounds in 25 minutes.
Beal added 18 points for the Wizards, whose confidence remained high despite a narrow loss at home Sunday. With two of Indiana’s victories coming down to the wire — and the other a blowout in Game 3 that saw Washington score its fewest points in franchise history — there was reason to believe the Wizards were on the cusp of turning things around.
“They’re not ready to go home,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “It wasn’t like we were that far away [in two losses], and I wanted our guys to realize that and believe in that and come out tonight, and if we played at another caliber, we would have another chance.”
Their problems, they believed, were self-inflicted: A series-long shooting percentage that scraped the low-40s, an inability to generate their preferred pace on offense, a pattern of uncharacteristic turnovers and a significant number of missed free throws.
Much of that burden fell on Wall, who had not been as aggressive or confident against the Pacers as he was in the first-round series against the Chicago Bulls. On Tuesday, Wall fought through indecision in the first half, occasionally passing on open shots and declining, at times, to drive the baseline, instead looking to defer to his teammates.
But he managed to control the pace from the opening tipoff, which has been crucial to the Wizards‘ early success. They held their trademark lead after the first quarter, building a 25-19 advantage after 12 minutes, by pushing the ball upcourt even when the Pacers made a shot.
“I think we played like we had nothing to lose,” forward Drew Gooden said. “Even though we did have everything on the line — our season was on the line — that was the mindset. Like, we can’t come out here shy. I think that started with John pushing the pace.”