The Washington Wizards have heard plenty of numbers entering Tuesday’s do-or-die Game 5 against Indiana in their Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series.
Though they probably won’t admit it, they know that only eight teams have in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series (the last being the Phoenix Suns in 2006 against the Los Angeles Lakers). And following their Game 4 collapse, just about every Wizard lamented the team’s continued third-quarter struggles, which have played out to the tune of Indiana outscoring Washington by a combined 46 points in that period through four games.
As Bradley Beal pointed out, anything can happen in the playoffs (just ask the 2013 runner-up San Antonio Spurs), but there are a few other numbers the Wizards must attend to should they hope to extend this series and their season.
Points scored by Paul George and Roy Hibbert in the second half of Game 4. After Hibbert exploded for 28 points in Game 2 and George went for 23 in Game 3, the all-star duo joined forces to push the Pacers past the Wizards on Sunday. Trevor Ariza struggled to slow George for the first time this series, allowing him to shoot 6 for 8 (including 4 for 4 on threes) and score 20 points in the 8 minutes 56 seconds he was matched up on George, according to NBA.com’s SportVU stats. Meantime, while the play of Drew Gooden and Al Harrington was huge for Washington, it relegated the struggling Marcin Gortat to the bench, which allowed Hibbert to use his size advantage to score in the post and get to the foul line.
Fast-break points by the Wizards in the second half of Game 4 after scoring 18 in the first half. Sunday marked Washington’s best showing when it came to pushing the pace, but thanks to their third-quarter letdown, the Wizards lost control of the game’s tempo when it mattered most. Some of this had to do with Indiana suddenly getting hot from the field — it’s harder to push the ball after a made shot — which brings us back to the Wizards’ defense. If George gets going, fine; he was once in the MVP discussion for a reason. But Washington can’t afford to let Hibbert and David West (16 points on 6-for-7 shooting) hurt them from the mid-range and the Wizards must force more turnovers to create transition opportunities. That said….
Turnovers by John Wall in the last two games. The spike in Wall’s errors has partly come from his efforts to push the pace, and the speedy guard often leaves his teammates behind on the break. But Wizards Coach Randy Wittman has noted that Wall is playing a bit more tentatively due to the inside presence of Hibbert. Once Wall slices into the paint, he’s often met by the extended hands of the 7-foot-2 Hibbert and in turn, looks to pass more than attack the rim or draw a foul. Yes, the referees have been inconsistent in judging verticality foul calls on Hibbert, but Wall has to help his cause by being more aggressive and confident in his ability to create among Indiana’s trees.
Total points by Marcin Gortat in Games 3 and 4, compared to 33 in Games 1 and 2. On Sunday, Gortat sat out the entire second and fourth quarters, and it wasn’t because he was in foul trouble. As noted earlier, the play of Gooden and Harrington off the bench warranted more minutes but the matchup problems that doomed Atlanta with Indiana’s big men are prone to resurface without the bulky Gortat on the floor. Neither he nor Nene (35.7 percent shooting this series) have played particularly well on the offense but their physicality on both ends will be critical in taking Indiana out of its preferred deliberate pace and igniting the Wizards on Tuesday.
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