Apologies if this all sounds familiar... With their offense falling flat, Roy Hibbert registering another goose egg and their opponent bombing away from deep, the top-seeded Indiana Pacers fell 102-96 to the Washington Wizards on Monday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
• The Wizards are as right as the Pacers are wrong. We spent a majority of the first round wondering, "What's wrong with the Pacers?" But maybe it's time we start asking, "What's right with the Wizards?" Washington's five-game thumping of Chicago got overshadowed by the orgy of Game 7s over the weekend, but make no mistake, this is the team that pulled off the biggest upset of the first round. Now, they're poised to do the same in the second with a 1-0 lead after Monday.
From John Wall to Drew Gooden, Washington played fantastic basketball in Game 1. The final score was as indicative of the competitiveness as the weather outside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. This was a game the Wizards won handily, only to let the Pacers creep back in the final seconds on a series of irrelevant shots. The Wizards hit 10-of-16 attempts from three-point range, outrebounded the Pacers 53-36 and held them to just 40.7 percent shooting from the field. Washington's two biggest stars, John Wall and Bradley Beal, controlled the tempo of the game, the team's frontline dominated Roy Hibbert (0 points, 0 rebounds) and Trevor Ariza came out of nowhere to outshine Paul George.
If all of those trends continue, this will certainly be a short series. Indiana displayed all of the same fatal flaws against Washington that almost did them in against Atlanta. In fact, Game 1 had such a familiar feel that it led one Hawks star to point out the obvious in the final seconds of the Wizards' win:
We handed out the blue print
Teague is right. The Wizards might look different with Nene and Marcin Gortat down low, but they're doing the exact same thing to the Pacers as the Hawks did in the series prior. The quickness of the Wiz's backcourt is giving Indiana the same fits Teague did. Much like Atlanta, Washington is using the three-ball to spread Indy's defense, and neutralize the regular-season's stingiest unit. And the Wizards are outhustling and outmuscling the shell-shocked Pacers to every loose ball -- giving Indiana the same look of helplessness it emitted last week.
If the top-seeded Pacers lose in the second round, their collapse is sure to dominate headlines. But it'll be a shame if the Wizards' stunning postseason success gets lost in the wreckage.
• Trevor Ariza continues a remarkable offensive transformation. Opponents used to beg Trevor Ariza to shoot.
During his first five years in the league, Ariza attempted just 234 three-pointers. The 6-foot-8 swingman was known for his athleticism and slashing ability, not his jumper, leading opponents to try and lure the balky shooter into letting it fly. Ariza was still an effective player, helping the Lakers win a title as a defensive stopper in 2009, but his first year after leaving Los Angeles proved he was going to have to change his game to stick around in the league.
Deferring and passing to Kobe Bryant is Option A in Los Angeles., but there was no Mamba for Ariza in his first year in Houston. With the Rockets needing him to keep opponents honest and space the floor, Ariza jacked almost twice as many three-pointers that season as his first five combined. It didn't help that he made just a third of his attempts.
Players who shoot 400-plus treys at a 33.4 percent clip aren't long for the NBA. If Ariza was going to remain a productive player, he was going to have to do something about his three-point shooting. The results didn't come quickly, but slowly but surely, Ariza transitioned from to liable to reliable. This season, his 10th in the league, he hit a remarkable 40.7 percent of his attempts, good for 16th in the NBA. And in six games this postseason, Ariza has been even sharper:
In Game 1 on Monday, Ariza brought the Pacers to their knees -- except this time the opponent was begging him to stop shooting. The silky forward finished with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including a scintillating 6-of-6 from three-point range. With Wall poaching Indiana's defense, Ariza essentially played the role of Kyle Korver in Game 1, perching behind the arc much like the Hawks' sharpshooter did in round one. It's a role no one would have expected Ariza to play in the early days of his career -- let alone to perfection.
• The Roy Hibbert Revival was falsely advertised. It looked like the Pacers starting center had finally snapped out of his month-long funk with a promising effort in Game 7 against the Hawks. Hibbert totaled 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in 31 minutes -- not exactly eye-popping numbers, but not the eye-gouging ones he had been putting up for weeks either.
But rather than reassume his leading role in Game 1 against the Wizards, Hibbert showed that his efforts in Game 7 were just a mere cameo.
I present to you, without comment, Hibbert's Game 1 box score line:
Player MIN PTS FG-A REBS BLK PF TO +/-
Hibbert 18 0 0-2 0 2 5 2 -17