What happened: Up by as many as 19 points, the Washington Wizards squandered their second-half lead and fell to the Indiana Pacers, 95-92, on Sunday in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series. The Pacers now hold a 3-1 series lead and will look to end Washington’s season when the series shifts back to Indiana on Tuesday for Game 5.
What went well for the Wizards: Though some likely figured the AARP Wizards didn’t have another run in them following their first-half explosion, they did it again when Washington needed it the most. Harrington and Gooden scored nine of the team’s first 13 points in the fourth quarter to turn a tie game into a nine-point Wizards lead. This concerted effort allowed the Wizards to boast six double-digit scorers and hold the lead for much of the game despite having their starters outscored 93-60 by Indiana’s starters. Bradley Beal bounced back from arguably his worst game of the playoffs to lead his team with 20 points despite the tough defense of Paul George. Speaking of defense, the Wizards forced the Pacers into 18 turnovers and scored 22 points off of them. More points came at the foul line, where the Wizards had struggled of late. While Indiana shot just 10 for 22, Washington hit 15 of 19 attempts, despite the critical miss by Beal with eight seconds to play.
What went wrong for the Wizards: The energy that initially sparked the Wizards evaporated in the third quarter, as the Pacers went on a run to trim Washington’s 19-point lead to just two. George led that charge by draining four three-pointers in the third quarter, with the majority coming from the corner after Wizards defenders sagged into the lane to help out on Roy Hibbert, who combined with George for Indiana’s last 18 points of the third and 18 of their last 20 in the fourth. Indiana’s 33-point third quarter mirrored the type of effort that helped it pull away in Friday’s contest, again demonstrating the Wizards’ inability to turn early leads into a blowout wins. George, who was due a big game, finished with 39 points (including seven three-pointers) and 12 rebounds as neither Trevor Ariza or Beal had an answer for him defensively. George’s play on both ends of the floor helped the Pacers work their way back into the lead and prevented Beal from finding open looks on the Wizards final plays.
What to watch for in Game 5: When the Wizards take the floor Tuesday, their season will be on the brink following Sunday’s collapse at home. That means they must overcome the mental challenge of figuring out the East’s top seed while also channeling their sense of urgency into a positive result. With Paul George breaking out for his first big performance of this series, the Wizards will have to refocus their attention defensively on containing the best player on the floor between both teams. On offense, while Washington will no doubt look to keep the pace fast, playing under more control and with less turnovers (13 on Sunday) will help them keep the Pacers at arms’ distance should they build another early lead. Granted, that’s easier said than done against Indiana’s defense and with Hibbert awaiting Washington’s players in the paint.