- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS — With 23 seconds remaining on the shot clock, John Wall grabbed a long rebound near the top of the arc and didn’t think twice about shooting the ball.

The Washington Wizards trailed by three points with 2:28 to play Wednesday in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, and Wall, knowing he had made a similar shot countless times before, was confident he could do it again.

Thus, after Bradley Beal’s off-balance heave had gone long, and Marcin Gortat had positioned himself perfectly under the basket to tip the ball back to Wall, he didn’t bother resetting the offense. With the Pacers’ Paul George closing in on him, Wall squared himself up and shot the ball, which clanged off the front of the rim.

All told, the Wizards had three opportunities to pull themselves back into the game in the final minutes, but three missed 3-point shots by Wall and Beal did them no favors. A jump shot and a pair of free throws later, the Pacers won, 86-82, forcing a split in the best-of-seven series.

“That’s in the heat of the battle,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said afterward. “In the situation, you’ve got to react. I trust our guys and what they’re doing and how they feel.”

Wall’s missed jumper would have been forgivable, especially after George missed a 3-point attempt at the other end and the Wizards were handed a second opportunity to cut into the Pacers’ lead.

Instead, Beal missed a 3-point attempt from the right wing in transition with 1:17 to play, and after the Pacers again allowed Washington a free pass with another miss from George on the next possession, Wall again raced down the court and missed a 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining on the shot clock.

Even then, the Pacers still couldn’t put the Wizards away. Wall tried to atone for his misses by driving the lane with 42.9 seconds left, but as he went up for a layup, Indiana guard George Hill stripped him of the ball — a play that led to a long jumper by Lance Stephenson on the other end and a five-point Pacers lead.

There have been very few times this postseason when Wall’s and Beal’s collective inexperience has been on display, especially after they led the fifth-seeded Wizards to a first-round victory over the Chicago Bulls that included three wins on the road.

That sequence Wednesday — especially Wall’s first attempt — was one of those rare examples.

“That’s a good opportunity to put it on the ground, attack the rim and collapse the defense if you’re going to look to get a three,” Wittman said. “But you know, I can’t fault their desire and trying to do what they were doing. That’s just something you learn in the course of playing in these situations, and I think we’ll handle it better next time.”

Beal finished with 17 points, stifled much of the game by George’s perimeter defense. Wall, meanwhile, made just two of his 13 shots for six points, and the Wizards shot a combined 5-for-21 from beyond the arc — the worst 3-point shooting performance by any team in the playoffs this season.

“I think whenever so much time’s running down, it goes by fast, so I think we were just trying to tie the game up quick and put pressure on them, so to speak, because the pressure was on us,” Beal said. “You’re down three and you’re kind of rushing a little bit, but I think we had some solid looks. We probably rushed a couple, and they were probably some bad shots, but at the end of the day, we still had an opportunity to win at the end of the game.”

Even through Wednesday, Wall and Beal had been remarkably poised during the Wizards’ postseason run, making any notion of their playoff inexperience being a factor working against Washington laughable nearly three weeks later.

Beal averaged 19.8 points in the first-round series against the Bulls and scored a game-high 25 points in Game 1 on Monday, becoming the first player to score at least 25 points in three playoff games before turning 21 since Magic Johnson did so in 1980.

Wall, meanwhile, adapted to the Bulls’ plan to take him out of the equation as a scorer by focusing on setting the appropriate tempo, getting his teammates involved in the offense and playing well defensively.

That’s why, in many regards, the loss on Wednesday was valuable to the Wizards. They’ll return home for Game 3 on Friday with the series tied, 1-1, knowing that despite their plethora of mistakes, they nearly had the victory.

“It teaches us a lot,” Beal said. “For one, just in terms of knowing that we didn’t play our best game and we were still in the game — I think we can move forward and just have that confidence in knowing that if we play better, the score will probably be a lot different.”

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