Facing elimination, the Washington Wizards fought valiantly for their future, downing the Indiana Pacers 102-79 and cutting their series deficit to 3-2. The Eastern Conference semifinal series resumes with Game 6 on Thursday in Washington.
• The Pacers let their guard down. The Wizards clocked them in the face. After three straight victories, Indiana finally appeared to have righted its ship and had a prime opportunity to close out the Wizards in Game 5. Instead, Indiana sailed smack-dab into a 6-foot-11 rock named Marcin Gortat and shipwrecked so badly it's tough to imagine there were any survivors.
There's total domination and then there's what Gortat did to the Pacers on Tuesday. After managing just six points combined in Washington's last two games, the Wizards center played like a man possessed in Game 5. He scored 31 points on 13-of-15 shooting, the most efficient effort of any 30-point scorer this postseason. Gortat also had 16 rebounds, which was more than the entire Pacers team had (12) when he exited the game for good with 8:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. And if those two feats weren't staggering enough, Gortat capped off his performance with a +34 plus/minus rating, essentially making him a bigger competitive advantage than Flubber.
With Nene (four points) taking a backseat, Gortat seized the opportunity inside against the Pacers and had his way. He also added to Roy Hibbert's postseason to forget, outplaying Indiana's much-maligned center (four points, two rebounds) in every facet of the game and adding a slew of new lowlights to Hibbert's extensive 2013-14 reel.
While Gortat's explosion in Game 5 comes as a surprise, he's been a solid addition for the Wizards all season, coming over from Phoenix on the eve of the regular season and providing them with a reliable two-way center and a nightly double-double. But his contributions are usually understated, providing strong play under the hoop on both ends, doing the dirty work on the glass and with his screens and allowing his younger teammates to hog the spotlight.
But Washington made a concerted effort to get Gortat the ball in Game 5 and the strategy paid fortunes. Asked after the game what his mentality was coming in, the Wizards center told TNT, "I tried to come out and play the best game of my life."
He succeeded. Gortat was so good in Game 5 that Michael Jordan should seriously consider returning the favor and getting a tattoo of the Polish center on his leg. OK, maybe that's taking it too far, but Gortat's game was invaluable to the Wizards, keeping Washington's season alive while throwing serious doubt on Indiana's.
• Indiana's problems continue. Would this team make up its mind already? Of all the problems the Pacers suffered on Tuesday, none was more glaring than their no-show effort on the glass. The Wizards outrebounded them by so much you're going to think this is a typo: 62-23. Let that sink in for a minute.
Indy has been outrebounded in four of five games this series, but a 39-board margin? The Pacers simply didn't show the type of effort necessary to compete Tuesday. Paul George, who averaged 9.7 rebounds per game in the playoffs coming in, had just one board. Lance Stephenson, one of the best rebounding guards in the league, had 0. Hibbert? Two. David West? A "team-high" six.
For a team that showed so much pride in its last three victories after overcoming a near-collapse in the first round, Tuesday's loss was a total embarrassment. The Pacers are still one win away from returning to the Eastern Conference finals. Someone better remind them.
• The return of Good John Wall. Despite Washington's surprising postseason success, it hasn't been a banner playoff debut for John Wall. The Wizards' blossoming star was shooting just 34.4 percent from the field coming into Tuesday and had seen his scoring average drop from 19.3 during the regular season to 15.6 in the postseason. Even worse, his PER had plummeted from 19.8 to 13.8, according to basketball-reference.
But Wall looked like his regular-season self against the Pacers in Game 5, torching them for 27 points (11-of-20 shooting) and hitting three three-pointers after making just four all postseason.
Indiana possesses several capable defensive options to throw at Wall with George Hill, Stephenson and George, but none was able to subdue Washington's electric star on this night. On just pure athleticism and speed alone, Wall can change the game. But when his jump shot is also falling, Wall becomes exponentially more dangerous, flashing glimpses of the All-World talent that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2010.
Last week, SI.com featured a roundtable asking its writers whether Wall or Blazers guard Damian Lillard had a brighter future. I voted Lillard. I was outvoted 5-1. It's not that I didn't appreciate Wall's incredible talent, it's just that I hadn't seen him realize enough of it to be convinced that he's superior in the long-term to Lillard. Tuesday's performance was a convincing display.
Game 5 was far and away the best playoff game of Wall's short career, but judging by the 23-year-old's immense talent, it likely won't hold that distinction for very long.