WASHINGTON -- The first round was a lot of fun, wasn't it? Five seven-game series, a six-game war. A rivalry renewed between San Antonio and Dallas. An overtime-filled thriller between Portland and Houston. Even Miami's first round sweep of the team formerly known as the Bobcats had its moments.
If you weren't a fan of the NBA before the first round, you were after.
If you just started watching at the start of the second round, well, the league would like to apologize for what you are seeing.
The second round, frankly, has stunk. Miami has thoroughly outplayed Brooklyn through two games. San Antonio has spanked the Blazers by a total of 41 points. On Friday, Indiana outlasted Washington 85-63. They held the Wizards to 32.9 percent shooting, including 25 percent from three-point range. A DC crowd witnessing its first conference semifinal series since 2005 started booing in the second quarter and didn't stop until they began filing towards the exits midway through the fourth.
"This was a real clunker for us," said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. "There is no question about it."
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Indiana? They love it. Ugly, said Paul George, "is our style of basketball." At the height of the Pacers power -- think last season's conference finals against Miami -- Indiana was a bunch of guys looking to get into basketball's version of a street fight. They overwhelmed you with their strength on the inside and locked you down on the other end.
That was the old Indiana on Friday. They forced turnovers, 18 in all. They limited the Wizards to eight fast break points. When Washington wanted to play up-tempo, the Pacers forced them to slug it out in the half court. They contested everything and, said Washington's Bradley Beal, "were all together on one page on the defensive end."
"I think our success has always been ugly," said George Hill. "The last three years I have been here, no one wanted to watch us. We didn't have that glow or that flair where high caliber people tune into watch us. I think that's why we had that chip on our shoulder. No one expected us to be where we're at. It's good that no one wants to watch us."
It's doubtful the folks at ESPN and TNT agree with Hill, of course. But for a Pacers team that has been rocked by inconsistency and self-doubt, a return to a familiar style is welcome. For one night, the old Indiana was back. Roy Hibbert (14 points, five rebounds) was solid. George (23 points, eight rebounds) was better. And when the Wizards surged briefly in the fourth quarter David West (12 points) was there to beat them back.
Of the Pacers 31 field goals, 20 were assisted.
"In the playoffs you can only win games by everyone contributing with each other," Hill said. "We said that each guy has to not look to score for himself, but to look to try to set up other guys to make the game a lot easier. From our starters to reserves, everyone came in with the mindset of looking for someone else."
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Inside the Indiana locker room, positivity reigned. Hibbert was still swarmed by reporters but instead of answering questions about another off night he was peppered with ones about whether he felt he had turned a corner. Across the room West and Hill avoided the nightly what's-wrong-with-Roy narrative and discussed a stingy defense that didn't give up more than 18 points in a quarter and held Washington to the fourth lowest scoring output in a postseason game since the adoption of the shot clock.
"It feels good," West said. "But we're not content."
Leading 2-1, Indiana now finds itself two wins away from potentially being in a position they aimed to be in at the start of the season: In the conference finals, against Miami, with homecourt advantage. They can't be overconfident. John Wall disappeared for the second straight game -- "I thought he had some hesitation in his game tonight," Wittman said -- but Wall's speed and ability to create in the paint is Indiana's worst nightmare.
"I think we have a healthy respect for this basketball team," said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. "We know what they're capable of."
Indiana knows what it's capable of, too. Toss in Game 7 against Atlanta and the Pacers have strung together three strong games out of the last four. The confidence that seemed to evaporate from the locker room in March and April slowly seems to be seeping its way back. Another unwatchable game is in the books, and Indiana couldn't be happier.
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