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Wizards vs. Pacers: Washington blows 20-point halftime lead in Nene’s home debut

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The Washington Wizards found another excruciating way to lose, this time failing to preserve a 22-point lead with a late fourth-quarter collapse that allowed the Indiana Pacers to escape, 85-83, on Thursday night before 15,874 at Verizon Center.

Despite their largest blown lead this season, the Wizards still had a chance to win with nine seconds to play. Point guard John Wall’s floater went in but was released after time expired, sending Washington to its third loss in four games in its return home after a season-long six-game road trip.

Jordan Crawford led the Wizards (11-35) with a game-high 21 points, though only three came in the second half, and Wall and rookie forward Chris Singleton each scored 16. Wall added a game-high nine assists and four rebounds but shot 4 for 11.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve done it,” Wall said of the meltdown. “We’ve done it a couple times this year. We know how it feels. Just no execution, no spacing in the second half. They just pounded away and just chipped at the lead, and we kept taking late shot-clock shots or didn’t get good shots, and they came away with the win.”

The Pacers (27-18) took their first lead of the game, 84-83, on guard Paul George’s three-pointer with 1 minute 1 second to play. From there, Indiana collected four offensive rebounds, preventing Washington from gaining possession until the closing seconds.

Indiana outscored Washington in the fourth quarter, 28-17, thanks in large part to all-star center Roy Hibbert, who finished with a 19 points and nine rebounds, both team highs. The former Georgetown star either scored or assisted on nine points in a row midway through the period to draw Indiana to 83-79 with 2:18 to play.

The Pacers also got 16 points from forward Danny Granger, who scored 15 in the second half, and 13 apiece from forward David West and George. George had five rebounds, and no Indiana starter had fewer than four, which contributed significantly to its 14-5 margin on the offensive glass.

“It’s a little salty taste in our mouth,” said center Nene, who made his home debut for the Wizards.

Nene came to Washington from Denver via a three-team deal at the trade deadline that shipped enigmatic center JaVale McGee along with injured forward Ronny Turiaf to the Nuggets and guard Nick Young to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Wizards also added Brian Cook and a second-round pick from the Clippers.

Wizards players eagerly welcomed Nene upon his arrival, thankful for a potentially stabilizing presence in the locker room and a willing passer from the interior who possessed basketball smarts. Wizards supporters showered Nene with applause during introductions in his first home game, and his impact was immediate.

Nene assisted on two of Washington’s first three baskets during a first quarter in which it led, 34-18. The Wizards’ point total matched their second most in an opening quarter this season, and at one point, they were 7 of 7 from the field with all of those baskets coming off assists.

“Sometimes when you score easily, which we kind of did in the first quarter, you think it’s going to be that way the whole night,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “And I thought we got away from working to get open to create the next option. We were starting our offense all the way out at half-court three or four times there in the last five minutes of the game. That’s just from taking shortcuts.”

Washington grew the lead to 22 points with a 7-1 run with 2:12 left until halftime. Singleton completed the surge with a three-pointer, and the Wizards took a 51-31 lead into the locker room before Indiana opened the second half with considerably more urgency.

A 10-0 flurry pulled the Pacers to 55-47, and they continued to whittle away at the lead as Washington unraveled some more. Indiana moved within 61-55 with 2:19 left in the third quarter before reeling off nine straight points in the final period to draw to 68-66.

Shortly thereafter, West’s 21-footer had Indiana trailing 71-70 with 7:13 to play, setting up the frenetic final minutes.

“If you talk about who deserved to win, we deserved to win,” Nene said. “We [had] an amazing first half, and they worked hard, they worked better than us, and we lost the game. In a loss you need to learn something, and I hope we learned something tonight.”

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