What Happened: Despite a late push, it wasn’t enough for the Wizards to hold off the Indiana Pacers in a 93-80 loss that ended Washington’s season in Game 6 of its Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Pacers will advance to face the Miami Heat in the conference finals for the second straight year.
What Went Well for the Wizards: Bradley Beal came out aggressive to ignite the Wizards early in the third quarter, hitting two jumpers that ultimately led to Washington’s first fastbreak bucket on a tough John Wall layup and punctuated an 11-4 run. Though they struggled to keep David West in check, the Wizards defense slowed down Lance Stephenson after his fast start and kept Paul George from getting open looks along the perimeter. Eventually, Wall gained steam and confidence by picking up loose balls and slicing to the basket despite the crowd of defenders awaiting him. Wall’s reckless abandon helped launch an 11-2 fourth-period run as Washington took its first lead since the opening quarter. This approach proved contagious, as Marcin Gortat and Drew Gooden became more aggressive in the paint and created several tap-out rebounds and tip-in opportunities.
What Went Wrong for the Wizards: Every game brought a different star for both teams. On Thursday, David West (29 points) picked up where Lance Stephenson left off in the first half, knocking down midrange jumpers and banging inside for second-chance buckets to throw a hiccup in Washington’s attempts to forge a rally. West’s physicality prevented the Wizards from corralling rebounds like they did in Game 5 and in turn, breaking out in transition. With the Wizards within striking distance late in the fourth, their defense lapsed. West was given room to drain a jump shot, and then George Hill got loose for a floater. Then on offense, the Wizards went for it all by attempting four threes that all missed. Wall tried taking it strong to the rim, but continued to be frustrated by the long-armed defense of Roy Hibbert and the inability to draw a foul. Those misses, along with Stephenson’s shifty moves and scores, ultimately sunk the Wizards, who watched the Pacers go on a 17-2 run to retake the lead.
What to Watch for in Offseason: Though the Wizards overachieved by making it to the second round of the playoffs, this season ends with a sour, disappointing defeat at home. Gortat, Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker will all be free agents while Andre Miller, Al Harrington and Drew Gooden are in the twilights of their careers. Can they afford to pay Ariza the money his career year will demand? Does Nene’s health make Gortat a necessity? How will Otto Porter Jr. be developed? Is Randy Wittman the right coach for this team? Lots of questions surround the Wizards entering the offseason that will likely yield much greater expectations in the coming year.