Wizards vs. Pacers: Washington’s three-game winning streak comes crashing to a halt in Indiana

Mustafa Shakur sat in front of the motion advertisement board near the Washington Wizards’ bench with a bag of ice pressed against the side of his temple. He had just absorbed a vicious screen that knocked him down and left him dazed. Hours later, he had no recollection of which Indiana Pacers player decked him because “by the time I looked up, I was getting hit.”

Like Shakur, his team got flattened Wednesday night. The Wizards thought they knew what to expect when they stepped onto the court at Conseco Fieldhouse to face the Pacers, who had an opportunity to clinch their first playoff berth in five years. But they were blindsided by a clinic of crisp ball movement and spectacular shooting in a 136-112 defeat.

The loss was a major regression from the past two weeks, which saw the Wizards win three in a row and four of five overall. The Wizards looked disorganized on defense and discombobulated on offense. They allowed the Pacers to shoot 59.5 percent from the floor, connect on 13 of 24 three-point shots and score 75 points by halftime. On offense, the Wizards had just seven assists through the first 45 minutes. They finished with 10.

“Energy caught up to us. Guys just didn’t seem to have it. We didn’t have that pep in our step,” Coach Flip Saunders said. “Let them get in too much of a comfort zone and I thought we tried to do things on our own, played very selfish. We didn’t move the ball, didn’t play as a team, didn’t do the things that we had done. Sometimes you revert to that. Fatigue can make cowards of us.”

The reason that the Wizards (21-57) were able to win three consecutive games for the first time in three years was because they played harder, with more aggression and with more energy than they had at any point this season. The sustained effort on both ends of the floor was able to compensate for any lapses in focus, poor decision-making or lack of depth.

A night after escaping with a thrilling two-point win over Detroit, the Wizards didn’t have much left for a track meet with the Pacers. The fatigue of heavy minutes with an undermanned roster finally showed through a series of defensive breakdowns and lazy fouls. Frustration took over as the Wizards were called for five technical fouls and Andray Blatche picked up a flagrant foul-penalty two in the third quarter after clotheslining Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough on a drive to the basket.

“We got down, we started panicking and instead of sticking to the system, and slowing down, we did our own thing,” said Blatche, who scored 23 points, just seven after the first period.

Jordan Crawford led all scorers with 29 points. With a large portion of the 14,222 fans in the arena dressed in either Kentucky or John Wall Wizards apparel, the No. 1 overall pick scored 19 points. Othyus Jeffers, who was signed for the rest of the season, added 13 points off the bench. But JaVale McGee was ineffective, picking up five fouls in nearly nine minutes, scoring two points with one rebound.

The Pacers (36-43) secured the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs after the Orlando Magic defeated Charlotte. They jumped on the Wizards early, building a 16-point lead in the first period, when they attempted 15 foul shots. The Wizards, who have lost seven straight here, didn’t help themselves. Hansbrough missed the second of two free throws in the first quarter but Blatche and rookie Kevin Seraphin watched the ball drop in front of them. Hansbrough scooped his own miss, then dunked the ball with two hands.

Pacers reserve Mike Dunleavy made the Wizards look silly near the end of the period when Wall missed a finger roll. Wizards players all tried to track down the rebound, but no one kept an eye on Dunleavy, who sprinted down and stood under his basket. He made a buzzer-beating layup to give the Pacers a 43-29 lead. Saunders angrily pressed his index fingers against his forehead and shouted to his players, “Think!”

“From the beginning, they took whatever what they wanted and got whatever they wanted,” Wall said. “They was the aggressor and we wasn’t. They picked us apart and we was getting frustrated. It was tough being down early. We didn’t have no control of the game.”

Danny Granger led seven Pacers in double figures with 25 points and rookie Paul George, who exchanged trash talk with Crawford on Twitter and just before tip-off, added 23.

“He got a lot of easy looks, a lot of open shots — actually, all of them did,” Crawford said. “If they getting free throws and open shots, it’s no way we can beat them. It’s simple, that first quarter killed us. We wasn’t tired. We didn’t have no excuse.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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