John Wall spent most of the flight home from Indiana late Wednesday night wrestling with regret.
Playing on a loop in Wall’s mind was the three-pointer he hurriedly shot with about two minutes remaining in the Washington Wizards’ Game 2 loss at the Indiana Pacers, immediately followed by the sight of Indiana guard George Hill ripping the ball away from him on an attempted drive in the waning seconds.
What Wall lamented the most, however, was that the chance to redeem himself wouldn’t come until Friday, when Washington’s Eastern Conference semifinal series with Indiana shifts to Verizon Center for Game 3 tied at one game apiece. To bide his time, the Wizards’ all-star guard did the next best thing — he arrived at Thursday’s practice an hour early and put up shots.
“I’ve been thinking about it all last night and today. The way I played and the way we didn’t play as a team and didn’t play the right way [on] defense,” Wall said of a game in which he had six points on 2-for-13 shooting. “That’s probably the worst game we played in the playoffs.”
The biggest difference between the first two games was Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, who followed his zero-point, zero-rebound performance in Game 1 with a season-high 28 points in Wednesday’s win. The play of the former Georgetown center both invigorated the Pacers and surprised the Wizards, who felt confident in their ability to neutralize the 7-foot-2 all-star following their Game 1 shutout.
“I think the first shot he took was kind of a lucky shot,” Wizards guard Andre Miller said. “That put him in a rhythm. He started to run the court a little bit. We saw on film where he kind of outran all of us and that showed him wanting the ball. He wanted to win and that rubbed off on the rest of the team.”
Wizards Coach Randy Wittman and his players felt they exuded a similar intensity Wednesday, which granted them several opportunities to win down the stretch despite shooting 5-for-21 from three-point territory and producing only one fast-break point. But Wittman said the urgency for the Wizards to dig themselves out of hole they’ve rarely fell into through seven playoff games led to a few regrettable decisions.
“I thought there was a couple instances there we were down three with a minute [and] 24 [seconds remaining] and we played those possessions like there was 10 seconds left,” Wittman said. “It almost felt like desperation on a couple of those possessions we got an offensive rebound on.”
For much of the series’ first two games, the Wizards have been forced to play Indiana’s brand of deliberate, slow-paced basketball. On Wednesday, the style allowed Wizards center Marcin Gortat to have his best showing of the playoffs with 21 points and 11 rebounds. But it also led to 16 post-up opportunities for the Pacers, who frequently fed Hibbert in the paint after running just one post-up play in Game 1.
Meanwhile, Trevor Ariza hounded Pacers all-star Paul George, holding him to 11 points on 5-for-13 shooting and raising the question of whether George or Hibbert poses a greater concern defensively for the Wizards.
“It’s not bad if [Hibbert’s] going to miss all of them,” Gortat said when asked if it’s a bad thing for Hibbert to shoot as much as he did Wednesday. “But it’s not good if he drops 28. That’s not what we expect. It depends on where he takes those shots from. You’ve got to do your work early, make sure he doesn’t catch the ball in the paint. He wants to do all these different fakes, but just make sure he’s 10, 12 feet from the basket.”
Along with this adjustment, the Wizards are now faced with the challenge of recovering from their first road loss in this year’s playoffs. Doing so in the comfy confines of Verizon Center is a welcome prospect, as Wall and the Wizards look to feed off the crowd’s energy in retaking control of the series early in Friday’s Game 3.
“We felt like we let a game slip away,” Wall said. “Whoever throws the first punch really sets the tone for the game and that’s what (Indiana) did (Wednesday). We didn’t play the way we was supposed to, but we still had an opportunity to win the game. You just look at the things you didn’t do well and make adjustments.”