Bradley Beal ran around screens, trying to free himself of the clutches of Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, until by the time he got the ball, he was too tired to connect on his textbook jumper. Marcin Gortat received the ball in the low post, hesitated and lofted jump hooks that scraped the rim. Nene powered his way to the basket and tossed up shots that made it appear the hoop was getting smaller.
Miss after miss, the Washington Wizards lost confidence that any shot would fall Friday night at Verizon Center. And with their legs growing weary and their frustration mounting, they couldn’t find the energy to stay in the fight in an offensive performance that set professional basketball back to when NBA teams played in Syracuse, N.Y., and Fort Wayne, Ind.
A Pacers team more accustomed to winning ugly did just that, disrupting almost everything the Wizards like to do in defeating Washington, 85-63, to take a two-games-to-one lead in their second-round playoff series.
“This really was a clunker for us. There is no question about it,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “It was our first one [of the playoffs]. We’ve got to let it go. We can play better.”
The Wizards set a franchise record for fewest points in a game, regular season or playoffs, surpassing the previous low of 64 set against Chicago on Jan. 11, 2012. The previous mark in the postseason (75) was set, oddly enough, in the first round of this postseason in a series-clinching win over the Chicago Bulls. The 63 points were the fourth-lowest playoff total in the shot-clock era.
“Tonight was the worst offensive night we’ve had. Look like we tried to miss shots,” Nene said after missing 11 of 14 shots and scoring eight points, a personal low this postseason. “The best way to finish this night is just laughing and smiling . . . and come back strong with intensity the next game. Offensively, that was my reaction. You smile. It was terrible.”
Returning home after having split the series’ first two games in Indiana, the Wizards were welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd that hadn’t seen second-round basketball since 2005, when the building was known as MCI Center and the team colors were blue, black and bronze. Watching the Wizards and Pacers assault the rims with errant shots for four quarters proved to be unbearable. Some fans began booing in the third quarter; some started heading to the exits with four minutes remaining.
For the first time this series — and possibly this postseason — the Pacers looked like the team that ran roughshod through the NBA before a late-season collapse. And for the first time in these playoffs, the Wizards trail in a playoff series. They will have to win Sunday’s Game 4 to avoid returning to Indianapolis for a possible closeout game.
“We know this is a seven-game series. It’s not one game and you advance. We have a lot of games, a lot of basketball to play,” Trevor Ariza said after scoring 12 points with a game-high 15 rebounds. “Now that we’re down, we definitely have to bring a sense of urgency to the game.”
The Pacers regained their stingy, rugged defensive style and put the clamps on the Wizards, limiting them to 32.9 percent shooting and forcing 18 turnovers that resulted in 21 points. Wall had seven turnovers in the defeat after only committing six miscues in the previous five games combined.
Indiana didn’t allow Washington to score more than 18 points in a period and crushed the Wizards’ spirit during a demoralizing third quarter. Whatever Wittman said to his team at halftime, he should put the speech in the shredder, burn it and throw the ashes in the Anacostia River.
The Wizards were outscored 26-12 in the third, playing at a sluggish pace, taking questionable shots, missing six free throws and falling behind by 17 points. In another low-possession game that favored Indiana, the Wizards were basically finished when former Georgetown center Roy Hibbert made a reverse layup to complete a 12-0 run and put his team ahead 48-37 with 5 minutes 44 seconds left in the quarter.
Hibbert scored 14 points, half of his total in a breakthrough performance in Wednesday’s Game 2, when he finally discovered his rhythm and provided the Pacers some hope. Indiana didn’t need another monster performance from the 7-foot-2 Hibbert because it simply made sure the Wizards wouldn’t score.
George finally solved the Wizards’ defense, scoring a game-high 23 points to help his team reclaim home-court advantage. Aside from his scoring, George was perhaps more impressive on the defensive end as he limited Beal to 16 points on 6-for-19 shooting. Beal admitted that the presence of Hibbert, who had three blocked shots, kept him from attacking the hoop.
“I’m 6-3, 6-4; he’s 7-2. You do the math,” Beal said. “He’s definitely a problem down there.”
Wall blamed himself for the Wizards’ loss in Game 2 and showed up an hour before Thursday’s practice to work on his jumper. This postseason, Wall has struggled to find his shot and has failed to connect on more than half of his field goal attempts in any game. Vowing to step up for the sake of his team, Wall could contribute only 15 points and six assists, which wasn’t enough on a night when Beal, Gortat and Nene combined to go 11 for 40 from the field.
“I think we were very confident, maybe overly confident coming into this game. Thinking that we were going to take the Pacers and put them down early, but that wasn’t the case,” an exasperated Drew Gooden said after the game. “I just think we missed a lot of shots that we usually knock down, and it’s only so much defense you can play. We played our defense. We just didn’t play our offense. We can’t try to win ballgames in the 80s or low 90s.”
And definitely not in the 60s.