The Indiana Pacers won their way on Friday. It was ugly.
Shooting just 42 percent from the field in the 85-63 Game 3 victory, the Pacers found their style. They might not have been able to make anything, save for the third quarter and the latter part of the fourth, but they stymied the Washington Wizards like they routinely did to opponents over the season's first few months.
Washington came into the game feeling confident, with the Verizon Center crowd ready for the first second-round game D.C. had seen since 2005. Indiana quickly sapped all that energy by mucking up the game. At halftime, the Pacers led 34-33. That is not a typo, and the San Antonio Spurs scored three more first-half points on Thursday than both of these teams combined.
Indiana absolutely rolled over the Wizards after halftime, and perhaps this shouldn't be such a surprise. The Pacers did this all the time during the regular season; they had the league's worst first-half offensive rating and best second-half net rating. When they're at their best, they make you expend all your energy trying to score against their set defense, and then they take advantage on the other end.
“We didn't play our style of game, we didn't play the way we wanted to,” Washington forward Trevor Ariza said from the postgame podium. “I think they controlled the game as I'm concerned. As far as pace has to do with the game, we're a team that plays well when we're getting up and down the court and making extra-effort plays and playing with a lot of energy.”
Bradley Beal, who has looked like a legitimate star in the playoffs, finished with a team-high 16 points and missed 13 of his 19 shots. John Wall had seven turnovers to go with his 15 points on 13 shots. Ariza, who had 12 points, was the only other Wizard to reach double figures. Indiana held the team to 24-for-73 shooting from the field, 4-for-16 from the three-point line.
“That's what we want to be,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said. “We had great regular-season success by being a dominant defensive team, limiting the three-ball, keeping teams out of transition, limiting teams to one shot, being a dominant defensive rebounding team and that's sort of what our identity is.”
Washington only reached the 50-point mark with less than nine minutes left in the game. Its 63 points are a franchise low in the playoffs, and the fourth-lowest postseason mark since the advent of the shot clock, per ESPN Stats & Info. The Wizards essentially could not score unless they got to the basket:
When Washington head coach Randy Wittman sat down to take questions, a reporter said what everyone was thinking: “Obviously, this was not a picturesque basketball game.”
“You're being kind,” Wittman responded.
You could argue it was the least aesthetically pleasing contest of the whole postseason. There were not many highlights. For most of the night, there was little ball movement and there were a ton of midrange jumpers. The two teams had eight fast-break points apiece.
For a team that has struggled so much with consistency, Indiana has something to build on here. The Pacers have shown what they can do when they impose their collective will. The Wizards will be fighting for their lives on Sunday, though, and Indiana knows it must keep things grimy to avoid a letdown.
“As you get further and further into the playoffs, it becomes tougher and your margin for error is more slim, especially against this basketball team that has enormous firepower,” Vogel said. “They were a little bit off their game tonight. I'm sure they're going to be great in Game 4 and we gotta elevate our play and be even better.”