- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2014

In time, the Washington Wizards will be able to look back at their performance in the 2014 postseason, good and bad, and take lessons that will serve them well as they grow together as a playoff team.

That’s for the future. For now, this one hurts.

David West had 29 points and Lance Stephenson added 17 as the Indiana Pacers brought the Wizards‘ playoff run, and their season, to an end Thursday, winning Game 6 of the teams’ second-round series 93-80 at Verizon Center.

That means the Pacers will return to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive season, where they will begin their series against the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon.

Washington, meanwhile, will stay home and prepare for the offseason, albeit a few weeks later than it has in recent years. After making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons — and dispatching the Chicago Bulls to advance to the second round for the first time in nine seasons — the fifth-seeded Wizards lost four of their last five playoff games, including three at home.

Marcin Gortat scored 19 points, Bradley Beal had 16 and John Wall had 12 for the Wizards, whose season-long struggles on their home court were perplexing. Washington, which finished 22-19 at Verizon Center during the regular season — the worst record among all qualifying playoff teams — also lost Game 3 and Game 4 of this series at Verizon Center and went just 1-4 at home during the postseason.

SEE ALSO: Veteran forward David West settles Indiana, helps eliminate Wizards

Not since 1979, when they last made the NBA Finals, have the Wizards won anything more than a first-round playoff game at home. Jokes flew about how the team should have distributed free yellow T-shirts instead of the red, white and blue ensemble handed out Thursday, or perhaps the crowd should have booed the Wizards on every possession.

Indiana folded at home Tuesday, with the Wizards maxing out at a 30-point lead in the fourth quarter and crushing the Pacers on the boards by an absurd 62-23 margin — something Wizards coach Randy Wittman considered a “fluke.” Much of that was because of Wall and Gortat, who shook off slumps to put on their best performances of the postseason.

On Thursday, the whole team seemed to be in a funk. The Pacers made 51.4 percent of their shots, including 58.8 percent in the first half and seven of their first nine. They often crashed the boards rather than rotating back to stop the Wizards‘ transition game — which didn’t matter anyway, as Washington was not credited with a single fast-break point in the first half and finished with just 10.

The first-quarter leads that became the Wizards‘ trademark in the first round were hard to come by through much of the series, and the Pacers held a 29-23 advantage entering the second quarter. Stephenson, who entered Thursday averaging 10 points per game in the series — and had scored no more than 12 in any of the previous five games — had nine of his points in the first quarter, mostly by turning past Beal and attacking the basket.

Because of an inability to pick up the pace of the game, the Wizards were forced to answer Indiana’s style and play a halfcourt game — something that hadn’t been among their strengths. They responded by missing seven consecutive shots over a four-and-a-half minute stretch in the second quarter, but Indiana’s own cold stretch over the final four minutes prevented its lead from advancing past 52-40 at halftime.

Washington’s biggest problem for much of the series has been its effort in the third quarter, and after two quick baskets from the Pacers, the Wizards challenged with an 11-2 run built on some semblance of a transition game.

Despite pushing the lead back to 14 points with 3:52 left in the third quarter, the Wizards began chipping away, first with an 8-2 run to end the frame and then with another 8-2 run over the first three minutes of the third quarter. They temporarily took the lead with 8:31 remaining on a 3-pointer by Beal, but it was short-lived; the Pacers answered with a 12-2 run over the better part of the next five minutes, settling into a groove from midrange and shredding Washington’s defense.

Fans began heading for the exits with 90 seconds remaining, yet those who stayed gave the Wizards a standing ovation. Gortat, out of the game, raised his hands above his head and started clapping during an Indiana timeout with 47.2 seconds remaining, and Wittman emptied his bench 10 seconds later.

West, whose 29 points marked his highest of the postseason, took a season-high 26 shots. Roy Hibbert had 11 points and seven rebounds, while Paul George, who scored 39 points in Game 4, had 12.

Washington again had the advantage on the boards, outrebounding Indiana 40-38, but shot just 39.2 percent from the floor. Nen had 15 points, while Trevor Ariza had six points and seven rebounds.

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