March 17, 2018 | Capital One Arena | Washington, D.C.
In a very tight Eastern Conference playoff race, the Washington Wizards took care of business at home against the Indiana Pacers to win the season-series, 2-1, and the all-important playoff tiebreaker. Both teams are now 40-30, but Washington controls their destiny in the No. 4 seed and just a half game back of the No. 3 Cleveland Cavaliers. In a balanced attack, the Wizards sent Capital One Arena off to their St. Patrick’s Day plans with a victory that the fans acknowledged with a standing ovation as time expired.
(Photo: Ned Dishman via Getty Images)
Taking The Early Lead And Maintaining It
Midway through the first quarter, Indiana had a 10-9 lead, but that was the last that they would enjoy such a comfort the rest of the game. The Wizards rattled off a 15-2 run in just over five minutes to take control of the game. In the second quarter after the Pacers cut the deficit to one, the home team ended the half on a 16-5 run to go into intermission up a dozen. Washington kept the pressure on as they put together a 14-3 run in the early parts of the third quarter to take a commanding 21-point lead to more or less seal the game.
“It was very important for us,” Beal said about the season series win. “We knew what was at stake with this game. We want to make sure that we took care of it and we did that. We did a good job of getting out to a good start on both ends of the floor.”
Marcin Gortat Thrives Against Like Big
Coming into the day, Indiana would be without Domantas Sabonis and his 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and an hour before tip, Nate McMillan announced that Myles Turner would not play either. As a result, 14-year veteran Al Jefferson got the start at center. Gortat relished the opportunity to play against a true center that lives in the paint as he does and was able to put together one of his best games. In less than 25 minutes of work, not too much because the Pacers went super small late, Gortat compiled 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting, eight rebounds, four assists, a block, a steal, and a charge. This was Gortat’s second game this season with at least 18 points and eight rebounds.
“It was good for us,” Bradley Beal said. “Whenever he is active and involved, that just helps us out in so many ways. We just need to continue to play that way. We were confident in him and he was confident in himself, so it was great to see him have a game like that, especially right before the playoffs. That’s exactly what we need from him.”
Jefferson went on a bit of a marketing campaign for Gortat after the game in respect of the Polish big.
“He does all the dirty work,” Jefferson said. “He can rebound, [play] offense, [play] defense. He is going to set good picks. He is going to roll to the basket. He is going to find a way. He knows how to read the boys when they get to the basket. He knows how to get the open spot and hit that shot. He is just one of those guys. He has a feel for the ball and a feel for the game. He knows where to be and how to get there to get to his shot. I have been playing against him for over 11 years now, and ever since he was a rookie until now, that is one thing he has always been good at.”
“We have a lot of respect,” Jefferson continued. “You have a lot of respect for those old guys. I am not going to say old but you have a lot of respect for the old heads that have been around. The first time that I played against him was 2007, when he was backing up Dwight Howard. I think that was my fourth year in the league, so me and him go way back. We always had the utmost respect for each other. Years in the past when they are not playing against us, I watch them in the playoffs, I always root for him, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, the old heads that have been around for a long time.”
Playing The Right Way: Defense Plus Ball Movement
Two weeks ago when Victor Oladipo came back home, he dropped 33 points on Washington and the Wizards did not want that to happen again. They pressured the former DeMatha star and made everything he got difficult leading to the All-Star scoring just 18 points on 16 shot attempts. Unlike last game where Beal guarded Oladipo the majority of time, but not vice versa, Washington made Oladipo work on the defensive end to guard Beal, while Satoransky at times guarded Oladipo. The Wizards also did a decent job against Bojan Bogdanovic who even though he had 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, had four turnovers.
The Wizards were able to score 26 points off of 15 Pacer turnovers and some of that was the result of strong ball movement. In another game where everyone ate, five in double-figures, Washington had 29 assists on 40 field goals to share the wealth. There were multiple instances where the home team simply whipped the ball around the court faster than Indiana could react leading to easy buckets. Washington is now 20-4 this season when shooting .500-or-better and 16-3 this season when dishing out at least 29 assists. The ball does in fact move faster than defenses. “A lot of good passing, 29 assists,” Brooks noted. “I thought Tomas (Satoransky) and Brad (Beal), our starters did a great job of really setting the tone and playing good basketball.”
Bench Struggled And Kept Things Close
Despite the 21-point second half lead, the Washington starters would have to finish the game out in the fourth quarter as Indiana cut a 20-point deficit with 6:30 to play to just 11 with a 11-2 run that spanned just two-and-a-half minutes. The bench was a combined -51 in plus-minus in just 84 minutes of court time. Although Kelly Oubre Jr. was able to score 16 points, Scott Brooks did not like how his second-unit was competing on the defensive end of the floor.
“Well, I think you have got to focus on defense, the bottom line,” Brooks explained. “If you focus on offense the ball gets sticky and the game doesn’t reward you. I thought tonight we were looking for shots instead of looking for stops. It’s simple: we look for stops, you can get shots. If you think the other way around, then you are just hoping they miss and hoping that you make.”
Players’ Thoughts On Potential First Round Matchup
If the playoffs started Saturday, they actually do four weeks later, the Wizards would host these Pacers in a first round matchup. Washington is confident that they would have the upper hand and I personally think it is a much more desirable matchup in order to avoid the likes of Philadelphia, Miami, and Milwaukee.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Beal began before really giving his opinion. “Every team is going to be tough; nobody is going to be easy to beat and it’s the first to four. No matter who we match up against and whoever we go against, we gotta play and you gotta bring your ‘A’ games. I like how we match up with Indiana and I feel like there is a lot of stuff that we can take advantage of. In a lot of categories, I think we can win them, but it’s not 100 percent we will be playing them. Hypothetically, I do like Indiana.”
“I think we match up good,” Gortat said. “We just had a much better effort today than we had last time at home. We made a little adjustment at halftime, on the pick-and-roll. If we’re going to come out ready to play, come out with that energy and focus, we’re okay. We’re going to be a good team, but it has to be consistent.”
“Very well, honestly,” Oubre said. “They have a lot of athletic young guards, big men who can score the ball as well. It’s an even matchup all the way through. It’s just about who wants it more.”
“We one-up on them,” Morris said if John Wall is back. “We still one up [if Wall is still working his way back], just like this [regular season] series.”
Next Game: After enjoying three days without a game, Washington will travel to San Antonio for their first matchup with the Spurs on Wednesday’s ESPN double header.