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Question of the Day
INDIANAPOLIS — The five-day waiting period between the end of the Washington Wizards' first-round series Tuesday and the start of their second-round series with the Indiana Pacers on Monday could have been viewed one of two ways.
The Wizards could have been thankful for the rest, which gave them the ability to recover from an intense, physical series against the Chicago Bulls, as the Pacers had to slug it out with the Atlanta Hawks in a seven-game series that mercifully ended Saturday.
Or, Washington could have fallen into a lull, with the schedule allowing Indiana to continue to build on the momentum gained from an emphatic victory and head confident into Game 1.
As it turned out, having that time to relax worked wonders. Bradley Beal had 25 points and John Wall had 13 points, nine assists and five rebounds as the Wizards defeated the Pacers 102-96 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take the lead in the teams' Eastern Conference semifinal.
Trevor Ariza added 22 points off 7-for-10 shooting for the Wizards, who, before Monday, had not won a road game against the Pacers since April 18, 2007 a span of 12 games.
Paul George and George Hill each had 18 points for Indiana, while David West added 15 points and 12 rebounds and Luis Scola had 12 points off the bench.
"It doesn't hurt our guys [to get rest]," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "We had a couple days off and then three good practices leading into this game. We had no idea who we were going to play, and we worried more about ourselves than who we were going to play — and I think that played into it."
The Pacers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, were dragged to seven games by the Hawks, whose success from behind the three-point arc was among the main reasons they were able to hang in the series.
The Wizards, likewise, took advantage, making 10 of 16 shots from three-point range including six from Ariza, which tied a team record.
And while Indiana was the eighth-best rebounding team during the regular season — and outrebounded the Wizards in each of the teams' three regular-season meetings — Washington controlled the boards on Monday, holding a 53-36 advantage.
Perimeter shooting and rebounding were among the reasons why Washington was able to advance to the second round of the postseason for the first time in nine years. Strong defense and early leads also helped, and the pattern established during that series with the Bulls appeared again Monday.
The Wizards also benefited from being able to increase the tempo of the game. Before a pregame shootaround, Wall mentioned the importance of pushing the pace eight times in four minutes — something he identified was the key factor in the Wizards' pair of regular-season road losses to the Pacers.
He made sure to do that early, with the Wizards taking an 8-0 lead off a pair of three-pointers from Ariza and a finger roll by center Marcin Gortat all set up in transition. He later came up with a pair of impressive blocks midway through the first quarter, first chasing down Pacers guard Lance Stephenson on a breakaway before denying his lazy lay-up and then denying George on a similar play less than 30 seconds later.
The Wizards entered the second quarter up 28-15.
"I think a lot of players learned that if you start the game focused, if you're engaged, then you're going to have a big chance to win the game," Gortat said. "There were some games where we started off slow ... but it's the whole atmosphere of the playoffs. The whole world is watching."
The offense then ground to a halt with Wall on the bench; the Pacers embarked upon an 11-0 run out of halftime to cut the deficit to two, then took their first lead three and a half minutes into the half when Evan Turner knocked down a pair of free throws.
Wall replaced Miller, who was making his first appearance in the second round of the playoffs in 15 years, with 8:02 left — and not only did the offense return, but so did the defense. The Pacers, who made eight of their first 11 shots in the second quarter, sank just three of 12 over the final 5:18, helping the Wizards take a 56-43 lead into halftime.
That lead hit 16 points just over two minutes into the second quarter when Drew Gooden, in the game with Nen in foul trouble, knocked down an open jumper from the right elbow. And though the Wizards went 0 for 11 from the floor over the final 6:12 and watched the Pacers cut their lead to 69-62 entering the fourth quarter, it was no problem.
Beal, who entered averaging 19.8 points per game in the playoffs, had 14 points in the fourth quarter, knocking down a pair of threes midway through that pushed the lead to 12 points with 6:19 remaining. A tip-in from Gooden, who finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench, stretched the lead back to 14 with 5:44 left, but the Pacers' attempt to chip away with three-pointers left them six points short.
George, who averaged 23.9 points per game in the seven-game series against the Hawks, shot just 4 for 17 from the floor.
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