Just five days ago, the Washington Wizards stumbled to their worst offensive output in franchise history when they scored 63 points in a Game 3 rout. On Tuesday, with their season on the line, the Wizards put together one of their best playoff performances ever in blowing past Indiana for a 102-79 win to force a Game 6.
How did the Wizards go about making this turnaround? First, read Mike Wise’s column on the team coming together. Then peruse through these critical stats:
Margin (62-23) by which the Wizards outrebounded the Pacers in Game 5, which is tied for the third-largest in NBA playoff history. It’s also the largest by any team in any game, regular season or playoffs, since the Knicks produced a +40 margin on March 7, 1992, according to Basketball Reference. The Wizards had 85 rebounding chances Tuesday compared to Indiana’s 56 opportunities and they grabbed 72 percent of them. The Wizards have actually outrebounded the Pacers in four of the series’ five games but the difference Tuesday was that Washington’s hustle along with its devotion to pushing the tempo put Indiana in an offensive funk, leading to missed shots on 39 percent shooting, and positioned the Wizards for second-chance opportunities (13 points on 18 offensive rebounds). Trevor Ariza quietly put together his first double-double of the playoffs with 10 points and 10 rebounds while Drew Gooden came off the bench for nine rebounds in just 16 minutes of play.
Players in the last 30 years to go for at least 30 points and 15 rebounds while shooting over 80 percent: Marcin Gortat (31 points, 16 rebounds on 13-for-15 shooting Tuesday) and (his former Orlando teammate) Dwight Howard). In the last three games, Gortat’s usage percentage was just 15.8. On Tuesday, he had 60 touches (second only to John Wall) and displayed an aggression and confidence that had been missing in the paint. After sitting out the second and fourth quarters in Game 4, both Gortat and Nene helped send Roy Hibbert (four points, two rebounds) back into his slump by forcing him to catch the ball away from the basket and depend on his less reliable jump hook. Based on how Nene’s mid-range success flummoxed the Bulls and how Gortat’s best game as a Wizard resulted in Washington’s best playoff performance, it’s clear that as the team’s bigs go, so goes the team.
Turnovers by the Wizards in the second half after yielding 12 in the first half. Wizards Coach Randy Wittman told John Wall before Game 5 that he didn’t care how many turnovers he had; just play with confidence. While no coach or team wants to turn the ball over (the Pacers scored 23 points off Washington’s miscues), on Tuesday at least, the Wizards loose approach on offense helped them keep the pace high and eventually vanquished the tentative play that had doomed them in the last three games. Washington’s seemingly carefree play ultimately resulted in more made shots (50 percent shooting from the field), better ball movement (21 assists on 41 buckets) and less turnovers.
John Wall’s performance on uncontested shots Tuesday. The All-Star point guard’s recent shooting slump and admitted frustration left the Pacers almost daring Wall to shoot while sagging on defense. In the first four games, Wall shot just 4-for-19 on uncontested shots. But on Tuesday, behind his 17-point third-quarter explosion, Wall hit mid-range jumpers and three-pointers to shift Indiana’s defense and neutralize the interior defensive advantage that Indiana held through Hibbert.
Margin that the Wizards starters outscored the Pacers starters. In the last three games, the Pacers’ starters had a plus-minus rating of +45 in 87 minutes, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In other words, Indiana hasn’t received much help from its bench, which is why the explosion of Washington’s reserves in Game 4 was so big and why slowing down the Wizards find success when slowing down Hibbert and George. Lance Stephenson has been inconsistent this series, David West has been more of a leader and physical presence than anything else and other than ripping steals from wall, George Hill is still stumbling through his worst season as a pro. Washington didn’t score its first bench point until the third quarter and while that didn’t matter much on Tuesday, the Wizards could be primed for another big game on Thursday should both their first and second unit come ready to play on both ends of the floor.
Indiana’s record on the road in the postseason versus Washington’s 1-3 record at home. Something’s got to give on Thursday for the Wizards to remain alive in these playoffs.