For just more than a half, the Washington Wizards went head-to-head in a hotly contested battle. But the Indiana Pacers used two potent stretches in the third and fourth quarters to break open a close game and leave Washington in another time zone.
Indiana used nine three-pointers--seven in the second half--to run off with a 117-102 victory tonight before 18,345 at Conseco Fieldhouse. It was the Pacers' ninth consecutive victory over the Wizards (12-24) and sixth at home, where they have lost just twice this season.
"We played good the first 2 1/2 quarters, but we ran out of gas," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "Once [the Pacers] get going they are very hard to stop."
For more than a half the game was nip and tuck, with the teams playing to a 63-63 tie with 7 minutes 15 seconds left in the third quarter. At that point, the Pacers went on a 13-2 run, mixing in points from every spot on the floor, to take a 76-65 lead. Washington closed the margin to seven on a dunk by forward Aaron Williams with 1.9 seconds left.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Heard brought in his second unit, which found itself on the bad end of a three-point barrage by the Pacers, who built the lead to 97-80.
Sam Perkins, Reggie Miller and Austin Croshere made four consecutive three-pointers, with Perkins converting a rare four-point play after Ike Austin flattened him as he launched his shot from beyond the key.
Some starters said the lead was practically insurmountable by the time Heard put them back in with 7:10 remaining.
"We got it within seven," said point guard Rod Strickland, who finished with 11 points and five assists. "You can't take everybody out. You got a whole different flow. I feel you're supposed to live and die with your starters. A lot of times we sit there, and when things are not going well we just sit there.
"It's frustrating it's not the first time."
Every starter but center Jahidi White played at least 11 minutes in the third quarter, and Heard said he felt he needed to give his players a rest.
Heard also noted his bench has played well of late and figured it could keep the team in the game since it was matched up mainly against the Pacers' reserves during the fourth-quarter stretch. Miller (17 points) and Jalen Rose (25 points) were the only starters who played in the fourth quarter, Miller playing just four minutes.
Also, Washington's starting five was in the game when Indiana made its big surge in the third quarter.
"I think it was seven when we went out and 19 when we came back in," said guard Mitch Richmond, who finished with 17 points. "It was a struggle the rest of the way. It's the coach's decision on who plays and when. We can play with [the Pacers]."
Washington stayed with the Pacers in the first half, trailing 55-52 going into the third quarter. However, Pacers center Rik Smits scored 10 points in the period, mainly on uncontested mid-range jump shots, as Indiana caught the Wizards rotating late defensively.
"It was an overall defensive breakdown for us, especially on the pick and rolls," Heard said.
Indiana point guard Mark Jackson had 10 of his game-high 13 assists in the period, one coming on a wide-open fast break in which he shimmied while dribbling before giving the ball up to Rose.
"At that point, we were having fun again," Jackson said.
Meanwhile, the Wizards' offense stagnated as players opted to take perimeter shots instead of working through the low post, which was successful in the first half, especially when Howard and Aaron Williams (16 points) got the ball on the low block.
"We got a little impatient in the third," said Strickland, who said he and his teammates made the mistake of not going to Howard as much as they should have.
Said Indiana's Jackson: "We stopped them with good defense in the third quarter."