What Happened: The Washington Wizards stole a Game 1 victory on the road against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers, using a fast start and strong rebounding to notch a 102-96 win. The outcome snaps the Wizards’ 12-game losing streak at Indiana.
What Went Well for the Wizards: Trevor Ariza was simply on fire. The Wizards swingman knocked down all six of his three-point attempts, tying a franchise playoff record he set less than two weeks ago. Ariza was just as impressive on defense, harassing Paul George into a 4-for-17 shooting performance with his length and ability to track him off of screens. While Ariza benefited from Washington’s mostly sound ball movement (23 assists on 35 buckets), George suffered from the Pacers’ cold shooting within their stagnant offense. Ariza’s shooting somewhat overshadowed the fine game Bradley Beal (team-high 25 points) put together…until midway through the fourth quarter when he nailed two huge three-pointers. Beal’s playoff legend is in its infancy, but it’s growing. Monday also saw a rested Drew Gooden (12 points and 13 rebounds in 17 minutes) emerge as Washington’s spark off the bench on a night when Trevor Booker struggled to get going. Gooden had two critical tip-ins down the stretch, and his physical play fits well in this series against the likes of David West and Luis Scola. That physicality helped Washington build a 53-36 rebounding advantage, including a 17-6 margin on the offensive glass.
What Went Wrong for the Wizards: Just as they did in the first half, the Pacers made their move with Washington’s reserves on the floor, this time riding the high-energy play of Lance Stephenson during an 10-0 run. The Wizards missed their final 12 shots in the third quarter, swinging the pace in Indiana’s favor. The Wizards weren’t as fluid as they were in the first half, partly because of Indiana’s stronger play on defense and partly because they often settled for the jump shot off of the confidence built from their blistering start. Washington’s woes from the free throw line resurfaced, as it shot just 71 percent. That, along with the Pacers knocking down 22 of their 27 attempts, prevented the Wizards from pulling away following their fourth-quarter run. Washington’s 15 turnovers didn’t help their cause, either.
What to Watch for in Game 2: The streak is over now, as the Wizards won at Indiana for the first time since 2007. Now that that, along with stealing home-court advantage, is out of the way, the Wizards will again look to remain in the driver’s seat of a series in which most picked against them. No matter how well the Wizards start, the Pacers aren’t going to fold easily. That means, Washington’s play in half-court sets down the stretch will be tested and must improve from Monday’s up-and-down performance. That said, the Wizards seemed to always have an answer for Indiana’s run, showing trust in their wealth of weapons and poise to find the right shot. Monday was a necessary win to stop any momentum Indiana had from its Game 7 win against Atlanta. Wednesday will be just as important in the Wizards showing their first win in Indiana in 13 tries wasn’t a fluke.