Posts Tagged ‘Bradley Beal’

24-Second thoughts — May 13

By Sekou Smith,

VIDEO: Bradley Beal and the Wizards stayed alive

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Quick Change is my favorite halftime act at NBA games.

Has been for years.

And they will be until something or someone comes along to dethrone them …

They are also our honorary moniker for tonight’s action, because things do indeed change quickly in the conference semifinals. Just ask Roy Hibbert.

Game 5s for both the Pacers and Wizards and later on the Thunder and Clippers will show us exactly how all four teams react to the quick change that has come in their respective series.

Things changed so quickly in both the last time we saw them all on the floor, with both the Clippers and Pacers rallying back from huge deficits to win Game 4s on Sunday.

This very easily could have a been a night for closeouts. The Pacers have that chance, up 3-1 and playing on their home floor. The Thunder, of course, are deadlocked at 2-2 after the Clippers’ miraculous Game 4 comeback.

So while it’s win-or-go-home night in Indy for John Wall and his Wizards …

The Clippers and Thunder are guaranteed to go at it again, no matter what happens tonight.

Get your popcorn ready …

24 – Unbelievably sloppy start for the Pacers and especially the Wizards (seven turnovers in the first quarter), and yet they still lead after the first. It helps when your big man, Marcin Gortat, is working harder than anyone else on the floor during that span (11 points, six rebounds, one steal, one block and 12 hustle plays).

23 – Wait a minute, Luis Scola time! A 10-0 Indiana run gives the home team 27-25 lead …

22 – The Wizards are not playing like a team in the midst of their defining moment. So careless with the rock. Playing like it’s a preseason game …

21 – Hey, guess who’s on his way bizzzack to the bench (and more)?


20 – Wizards outworking the Pacers big time in the second quarter and pushed their lead to 10 (45-35). Hard to figure these Pacers out. No killer instinct on close-out night is a strange sign. Wizards fighting for their playoff lives, however, is what you love to see …

19 – Gortat and Co. destroying the Pacers on the glass!

18 – QUICK CHANGE!!!!!!!!!!!!

17 – BBQ Pierogi Alert … it’s a dumpling Shaq, not a sausage. Underdog, put that on a T-shirt!

16 – It’s a make or miss league and right now, John Wall is making ‘em. Seventeen and counting for the Wizards’ All-Star PG …

Meanwhile, the Pacers are doing it again …

Or better yet, Gortat is doing it to them …

15 – Freud couldn’t figure these Pacers out …

14 – Marcin The Machine!

13 – Welp!

VIDEO: Magic Johnson responds to Donald Sterling with Anderson Cooper

12 – Looks like the winner of the Early Game 4 Hangover Sweepstakes goes to …

11 – Stan Van Gundy coaching the Pistons makes plenty of sense. His front-office credentials, however …

10 – No hometown love for Blake Griffin, not five games into this series …

9 – Thunder rolling right now, with CP3 out of the mix with the two fouls …

8 – But BG stayed hot and J.J. Redick kept the Clippers in front at the half. Impressive stuff from the road warriors in this series once again …

7 – Amen!

6 – Officials in this night-cap are taking a bigger beating in the social media universe than even the Pacers …

5 – @JCrossover  is the master of the and-1

4 – KD needs to go ahead and join that kid’s framily, anything to escape this shooting nightmare tonight  …

3 – Oof!

2 – Huge box out and rebound of a BG miss on the second of two free throws leads to a CP3 dagger with 49.2 seconds left. Clippers hanging on to a 104-97 lead. Serge Ibaka failed to box Big Baby out properly. Crucial mistake in a game filled with them for the home team … if only KD and Russ weren’t there to rescue your bacon in the final minute. #giventhawaygame4takethawaygame5

1 – Good luck trying to make sense of this finish … CRAZY!

VIDEO: The wild Game 5 finish sees the Thunder serve up revenge for Game 4

Much to prove in G5 for Pacers, Wizards

By Steve Aschburner,

VIDEO: Let’s Go! Wizards-Pacers Game 5

INDIANAPOLIS – Both the Indiana Pacers and the Washington Wizards have opportunities to prove something Tuesday night in Game 5 that doesn’t have much to do with the conclusion or extension of their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.

Sure, the Pacers hold a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. But this one is important unto itself for what it might say about the Pacers or, more accurately, permit them to say about themselves.

All is well? You’re right where you were supposed to be? Maybe, maybe not. Indiana has had false starts before over the past month or so. Victories over Chicago and Miami, nailing down the East’s No. 1 seed, ousting Atlanta from Round 1 – those all supposedly were all-clear signs, only to have Indiana veer soon enough off the rails again.

Now they have the Wizards where they want them – on the brink of elimination, on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court – and a chance to smack down what had been a hot team and a trendy East semis pick just a week ago. The Pacers got an other-worldly game from Roy Hibbert in Game 2, pounced on a stinko performance by Washington in Game 3 (hey, almost every playoff team has one at some point) and rode on Paul George‘s lean shoulders to their comeback from 19 down in Game 4.

This would be the one, then, in which the Pacers could do themselves and their fan base proud. Start their engines, stomp on the pedal, click off 48 minutes worth of counter-clockwise laps and send the Wizards from the Brickyard to the graveyard. By ending this in a gentleman’s sweep, by asserting some real No. 1-ness over the conference’s No. 5 seed, by skipping the drama and drain of another trip to Washington and grabbing some flex days for themselves before opening the East finals at home, they could convince a few more skeptics and add legitimacy to their claim of being, y’know, back.

They also could back up what their coach, Frank Vogel, said last Sunday about playoff experience, something the Wizards are just now sampling. Remember, this season, this postseason push, is the culmination of something Indiana has been building for four years. One round, two rounds, three round, with its sight set on The Finals now.

That’s why the questions about playoff experience – habitually dismissed by Randy Wittman when asked about his youngish Wizards – get embraced by Vogel.

“I actually think it’s a big deal. It’s a big factor,” Vogel said. “I think experience in the playoffs gives you confidence. Not just overall experience, but experience as a group.  This group has been there. They’ve got an incredible young nucleus and they have veterans that have been there, but not this unit. I think it’s a factor and hopefully it continues to work well for us.”

Wittman wants to cast that theory aside, at least until his players get their exit interviews. After Game 4, the Wizards’ newness to all this was offered up as an explanation for getting outscored 57-37 in the second half. And for a failure to execute with 6.1 seconds left and a chance to tie. And for every mishap before or in between.

“Why do I want to talk about inexperience? All that is is an excuse,” Wittman said. “I don’t want our guys looking for an excuse. They’re gonna grow, they’re gonna continue to do the things that they’re gonna do. This is a process. All right? But right now, I’m not blaming any of this on any youth or inexperience or who’s been in the playoffs and who hasn’t. We’re in the fight. We’ve got to stay in the fight. No excuses. And we’ve got to do down and win a game.”

The Wizards will need John Wall to do better than 11.5 points a game on 31.4 percent shooting, and to have more of a plan when he drives the ball besides simply shying away from the 7-foot-2 Hibbert. The big fellow has been in Bradley Beal‘s head, too, but with George blanketing Beal on the perimeter, the middle might be Beal’s best bet.

George, after his 39-point burst in Game 4, is going to require more professional defense than Trevor Ariza gave. The Nene who caused such fits for Chicago and center Joakim Noah in the first round is scoring just 11.8 points and pulling down just 4.3 rebounds a game in this series. He’s shooting 35.7 percent.

And then there is the third quarter, an Indiana strength all season and current a Washington crisis. The Pacers have controlled those 12 minutes after halftime in all four games, with a combined scoring edge of 42. The rest of the quarters the Wizards have been plus-19. It hasn’t mattered.

“We haven’t been able to figure that out,”  Washington’s Al Harrington said Sunday. “That’s been us all year. [In the] third quarter, we just always seem to come out slow and sluggish. And then we find a way to ramp it up toward the end of the quarter and throughout the fourth quarter. In the playoffs at this time of year, you can’t afford that, especially against a good team.”

Indiana can reassert itself as that and sway some remaining doubters. Washington can learn on the fly and claim the knock-knock-knocking stuff is overrated.

That’s what is on the line in Game 5.

George fends off fatigue, grows game, drags Indiana to 3-1 lead

By Steve Aschburner,

VIDEO: Paul George goes off in Pacers win

WASHINGTON – On the morning of what became possibly the biggest night of his NBA life, Paul George sat in an empty arena and talked about the lessons he had learned, the strides he had taken, by going to the playoffs year after year and ultimately going home disappointed.

George, the Indiana Pacers’ All-Star wing player, spoke of Bradley Beal, the Washington Wizards’ smooth 20-year-old shooting guard, a kid who is the same age George was when he first dipped a toe into this postseason business. He talked of John Wall, the Wizards’ quicksilver point guard who was born four months later (1990) but drafted nine spots higher (2010), and how Wall is playing catch-up in playoff savvy and wiles.

“Man, it’s gonna take those guys some time,” George said. “I remember my first playoff run my rookie year…”

Uh, since it came in 2011, in a five-game series against Chicago, it hadn’t exactly faded into the mists of time. But George went on for a bit, old head on a young body, in that if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now way to which we’re all prone.

“I know what to expect come around this time,” George said. “It’s just another level.”

Forget Beal and Wall. You want to know who took his game and himself to another level Sunday night?

Paul George did.

George had a night that showed, 10 days after his 24th birthday, that he’s not done learning yet. The Pacers’ young All-Star half-carried, half-willed his team to its 95-92 victory over Washington in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at the Verizon Center.

By scoring 39 points, by grabbing 12 rebounds, by nailing seven of his 10 3-point attempts and by cross-guarding and chasing around Beal for the 42 minutes the Wizards guard was on the court (then playing nearly five minutes before that), George kicked himself to another level of NBA renown. The guy who had drawn comparisons early in his career to Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen – overlooked college background, long arms, defensive bent – came through like Pippen and  Michael Jordan Sunday, staking Indiana to a 3-1 lead in the series with a chance to close it out Tuesday in Indianapolis.

Grabbing the Pacers by the scruffs of their necks – he scored 28 points in the second half, helping to obliterate the Wizards’ 55-38 halftime lead – George demonstrated that experience and growth can come at any point. He had played 45 postseason games prior to Sunday, not one of them like this one.

“I kept wanting to try and give him a rest, and he kept saying no,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “Usually I will override that, but he kept making big shots. When a guy is going like that, I leave him in. … It was a special performance.”

Vogel had talked with George before the game, offering to spare him the grind of shadowing Beal, Washington’s most dangerous scorer in the series (19.3 ppg through Game 3). “No, I want the matchup,” George told his coach. He considered Beal “single-handedly capable of beating us,” so he wasn’t going to leave that to Lance Stephenson or anyone else. (The way Stephenson’s been going, the Pacers might not want to leave the morning doughnut run to him.)

Said George: “I knew every horn that sounded wasn’t somebody coming to get me. I already had it in my head that I would pretty much go the whole distance.”

George got his only breather, a whole 1:37, near the end of the first quarter. But with Indiana’s bench playing like four guys grabbed at random off Pennsylvania Ave. – they got outscored 32-2 by Washington’s reserves – that was it. All the Pacers starters played big minutes, none played longer or lugged the load at both ends the way George did.

His team’s second quarter could have been disastrous – 11 points, 2-for-17 shooting, the Wizards racing to 11 fast-break points quicker than the Pacers could backpedal. But whether it was a rush of standard-issue adrenaline or a more frantic case of fight-or-flight, George stayed in.

Washington still was up 17 halfway through the third, 68-51, when – in some order – the Pacers stirred some, George got a second wind, Roy Hibbert find an awkward but effective groove offensively and a 17-2 run had all but silenced the Verizon Center crowd. There might have been huffing and puffing from the exertion but there apparently wasn’t an inordinate amount of woofing from George, even as he dragged his club back from the brink.

“To tell you the truth, he’s just a quiet guy,” Hibbert said. “We talk, we joke, but when it comes to basketball, I always believe in that guy no matter what.”

Said George: “We all looked at one another. We really didn’t think this game was going to be over with. We didn’t think we were going to lose this game. There was so much time left. … Even when they went on a run, it felt like it wasn’t blows that put us away.”

The Wizards scored 17 in the third quarter, George scored 13. They got 20 in the fourth, he had 15. From halftime on, Hibbert scored 15, as much as any two Washington guys, while George doubled up on Beal (eight points) and Wall (six).

The job George did on Beal might have slipped past some untrained eyes – Beal led Washington with 20 points and shot 7-for-14. But he had to move and work to shed George, which limited him as a deep threat and often put him in the lane with, like Wall, the 7-foot-2 Hibbert on the brain.

“He shot less jumpers,” George said. “He was more cutting to the basket and trying to pick up easy ones that way – which was a counter I felt like they did against me, to use the denial to get to the basket for back-door [plays].”

Said Beal: “He made my job tough. … I’ve got to do a better job of trying to get him tired.”

Good luck with that. Because George did not tire Sunday – because he did all the heavy lifting, from carrying his buddies’ butts to clean-and-jerking his profile ever higher – he and Indiana are one victory away from four days of rest. And another round.

24-Second thoughts — May 11

By Sekou Smith,

VIDEO: The final frantic seconds of the Clippers’ epic Game 4 comeback win over the Thunder

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Greatest playoff comeback ever?

Ah, we’ll argue about it later. (And for the record, there is a huge difference between the “biggest” and “greatest” anything, so keep that in mind. More on this later …)

Greatest comeback in the Los Angeles Clippers’ franchise history?

No diggity, no doubt!

Down 16 in the fourth quarter, the Clippers unleashed the Mother’s Day comeback of the century. After watching them take punch after punch from the Thunder with their season on the line I offered up a simple question via Twitter …

The rest, as they say in Hollywood, is history!

24 – Oh, Metta. You’re going to miss an epic finish fella!

And give them a few minutes, Sir!

23 – No way the Thunder let up. No way. Not when they were crushing the Clippers for so long …

22 – Darren Collison has officially morphed into #newschool Vinnie Johnson and taken over the game on possession after possession. Competitive fire is coming out of his ears as he stages a one-on-one game within the game with his former UCLA teammates Russell Westbrook

21 – Clips back in this for one reason and really one reason only, D-E-F-E-N-S-E-! Doc Rivers switches Chris Paul on the MVP Kevin Durant (with plenty of double-team help) and it actually works …

20 – I believe this about any team, in any sport, at any level …

19 – Now, about this comeback from 22 points down in the game. It was the Clippers’ fourth-largest comeback in the past five seasons, per Elias. So no, it wasn’t a franchise record. They came back from 27 down in the 2012 playoffs to beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 24 down that same postseason to defeat the San Antonio Spurs and from a 23-point hole in the 2011 playoffs to beat the Portland Trail Blazers.

18 – Fine choice of words Mr. Green!

VIDEO: Darren Collison can go ahead and say it, “Im’ the man, I’m the man, I’m the man”

17 – “Madness, I say. Madness!”

… Haha!

16 – Fitting image for an epic finish!

15 – Some folks, CJ Paul, had much better seats than others for the epic comeback …

14 – Doug Collins nailed the one issue that many of us have with the two-faced nature of the KD-Russ dynamic and how it impacts the Thunder, negatively, sometimes (and particularly at critical times) …

13 – Interesting, might be Steve Kerr to the Knicks after all …

VIDEO: CP3 and Lil’ Chris at the podium

12 – No pressure or anything Pacers and Wizards. No big deal. You’re just following one of the best games of the entire #NBAPlayOffs.

No pressure …

11 – Don’t we have to be concerned about the big fella no matter what?

10 – Is anyone ready to forgive yet?

And a quick piece of wisdom from the Basketball Whisperer

9 – My main man #BigThirst Al Harrington with an appearance tonight for the Wizards. one of my favorite cats of all time. Good to see him out there …


8 – What he said …

7 – Wizards running circles around the Pacers at halftime and they’re the team with all the “old heads” … and that Wall fella!

6 – We’ve been burned once today with a hot start. It would be foolish to assume this one is over, but the Asch Man makes it hard to think this one is heading anywhere but over …

5 – Jeff Teague is not a man of many words. But the Hawks’ point guard is usually spot on with his observations …

More Sterling drama (sorry, but unfortunately it’s news) overshadowing the work of the Clippers on the floor. NBA response to Shelly Sterling‘s desire to retain her ownership stake of the Los Angeles Clippers:

In response to statements made by Shelly Sterling, wife of Donald Sterling, NBA spokesman Mike Bass stated:  
“Under the NBA Constitution, if a controlling owner’s interest is terminated by a 3/4 vote, all other team owners’ interests are automatically terminated as well.  It doesn’t matter whether the owners are related as is the case here.  These are the rules to which all NBA owners agreed to as a condition of owning their team.”

4 – Drew Gooden, Harrington and Andre Miller are ballin’ again … let that sink in for a second. They are the old man superhero brigade in D.C. It’s as crazy as it is entertaining watching the “Old” Wizards go to work …

Meanwhile, the Pacers come all the way back and tie the game up and then promptly get outscored 6-0 … and trail by six again 80-74 with 8:36 to play. #SMH #realpacerspleasestandup

3 – Win or lose, Wiz Bench and Paul George are exempt from the blame game tonight. Couldn’t have asked for from any of them …

2 – Dancin’ Roy Hibbert with a huge turnaround jumper for a 94-91 Pacers lead in the final 90 seconds. (Yeah, he traveled but it wasn’t called. What can you do?) If this holds, Hibbert will go from the scapegoat to hero in just days. Such is the roller coaster of life in the #NBAPlayoffs …

1 – Emotional crusher for the Wizards. Down 3-1 after losing the 19-point third quarter lead and dropping Game 4 to the Pacers with the late-game stumbles. Maybe they weren’t as ready for prime time as it seemed after Game 1?

VIDEO: Paul George was the man on the spot all night for the Pacers, who are suddenly in control again in this series

Wall seeks break-out game, Pacers pray

By Steve Aschburner,

VIDEO: Pacers-Wizards: Game 4 Preview

WASHINGTON – John Wall‘s breakthrough this season for the Washington Wizards, beyond staying healthy, has been his ability to take the team’s pulse, on the fly, and more often than not provide precisely the right mix of scoring, playmaking, defense, leadership and pace.

It’s a tricky formula, crafted from feel rather than from recipe, tweaked from night to night, subject to the competition, swings in momentum and assorted circumstances. And at the moment, it’s off. Way off. “New Coke” off.

Wall’s growing maturity in reading a game hasn’t averted Washington’s 2-1 hole in the best-of-seven series with the Indiana Pacers. Even when he reverted to some me-first tactics in the ugly Game 3 Pacers victory, his teammates didn’t prosper, the payoff wasn’t there and the fourth-year point guard never could find the right gear.

“John was trying to push it,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said after the 85-63 loss. “I didn’t think we had [four other] guys running with him the way we are capable of doing,”

Springtime is for graduations, but this is a school with few shortcuts to a degree. As eager as Wall and the Wizards are to startle the NBA again (having already beaten Chicago) by advancing to the Eastern Conference finals, class still is in session for the playoff newbies.

Playoff games come rapidly. Series, even those that go long, begin and end in a fortnight. Guys like Wall and Bradley Beal can learn as they go, but a lot of what they’re uploading now won’t fully get processed until they’re done. The Wizards will be better for this – whatever this is, all the way up to The Finals – in the coming years. But it’s coming at them now.

“I can’t even process it or even think about it,” Wall said after practice Saturday at the Verizon Center. “Basically you’re trying to prepare yourself and think about each game, and look forward to the next one. We’ve put [Game 3] behind us. Watched film today of what we need to do and what we’re capable of doing.”

The video from Friday’s game revealed plenty of the former, in all its conspicuous absence, but not much of the latter. There wasn’t a Wizard among them who played well; forward Trevor Ariza was the best of the bunch with 12 points and 15 rebounds, but Washington needed something more like Ariza’s Game 1 output offensively (22 points).

The rest of them missed shots, missed free throws or turned over the ball, and Wall did all three, with the additional culpability of not dictating the pace better for their offense. Forty-eight hours after bemoaning their inability to run – they had just a lone fast-break point in Game 2 – the Wizards knew they had failed again in merely tying Indiana, 8-8, in that stat in Game 3.

Wall knew, too, that “pace” is bigger than a few quick, breakout baskets.

“It ain’t just about pushing and trying to get fast breaks,” the point guard said. “It’s about putting pace into the game and getting a lot of possessions. That’s when we’re at our best.”

“Just after misses or makes, I think we still have to push the ball. Sometimes when they make it, we try to walk the ball up the court. Then you’re getting into your offense at like 10 or 11 seconds – then you’re basically going to stay on one side of the court the whole time. We’re a better team when we get it up there at 18, 19 seconds and go side-to-side to make those guys move.”

Spotty ball movement contributed to Washington’s 32.9 percent shooting (24 of 73). That led to Wall forcing a few things, which led to his seven turnovers. In this series so far, he is averaging 11.3 points, 7.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals. In the two losses, Wall has missed 18 of his 26 shots and owns a minus-25 in the Wizards’ 26-point scoring deficit.

While Beal, the 20-year-old shooting guard, has boosted his performance in the postseason – from 17.1 points per game to 19.6, from a 14.3 PER to 17.7 – Wall has not. He is shooting 34.2 percent (15.8 percent on 3-pointers), his offensive/defensive ratings have flipped (106/104 in the regular season, 98/102 now) and his own PER has fallen from 19.5 to 14.5.

Wall, 23, continues to work and learn daily from Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell, who was a master of mid-range shots and pace (without nearly Wall’s foot speed). The point guard and Wittman talk 1-on-1 almost daily, and especially after games. “We’ll sit down again [Sunday] morning and go over some things that I think he’ll be able to take advantage of,” Wittman said. “But we’ve always done that.”

The Pacers don’t expect that chat to get too intricate. “I think our guys are just running back and praying because it’s obviously a very tough assignment to stop him in the open court,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys made some spectacular plays in those open-court situations, but you can just hope to limit him as much as possible, he’s so electric.”

Paul George said his team remembers all too well the 37 points Wall hung on them in April 2013 when he shot 16-for-25. “We understand that at some point, he’s going to have a good game,” said George, an East All-Star teammate of Wall in February. “He can single-handedly beat us.”

Wall claimed the Wizards’ loss in Game 2 was his responsibility, though it seemed more like a leadership move than an accurate assessment. He was back to exuding confidence Saturday in spite of the second defeat.

“I think I’m going a good job. Nobody on our team’s really shot the ball well this series, to be honest,” Wall said.

“The Game 2 loss was definitely mine. But other than that, I just run my team as much as possible. Try to get those guys going. I know my team feeds off how I get into the paint, how I get guys open shots, and also create for myself. So unless I’m doing that job, then I’m not doing my job.”

Familiar Pacers D should worry Wiz

By Steve Aschburner,

VIDEO: Pacers drop Wizards in Game 3 for 2-1 edge

WASHINGTON – John Wall was awfully grudging in the credit he gave the Indiana Pacers’ defense after a game in which Wall and the Washington Wizards scored 63 points, made fewer than a third of their shots and turned over the ball 18 times.

It sure seemed like an if-not-now-when kind of night to ladle some praise at the Pacers after they won big in Game 3 to go up 2-1 in the teams’ best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series. But Wall stubbornly kept the focus on what he and his teammates didn’t do well, rather than how Indiana pushed and goaded them into a truly miserable performance, before a Verizon Center crowd that barely got to clear its throat.

“We had the shots that we wanted,” the Washington point guard said, nearly 90 minutes after the final horn. Wall gets treatment after games, see, and often takes a while. And then there was the ego to soothe this time.

“I thought we had a lot of pace to start the game, we just didn’t make shots,” he said.

And: “They just sit in the paint, I mean, so you’ve got to be able to knock down a couple of shots to get those guys to come out.”

The free throws he missed (three of six)? He suffered a cut over one eye and “could barely see,” which didn’t explain his pals’ 8-for-15.  Those seven turnovers of Wall’s? “They did a great job of knocking the ball from behind. Sometimes you get that call, sometimes you don’t,” Wall said.

Wall and the Wizards can refuse to fawn over their opponents and it might even be the smart move strategically. There is no better position to be in these days against Indiana than to have the Pacers satisfied, relaxing and lacking urgency, because whenever the East’s No. 1 seed has taken the court over the past two months without beads of desperation on its guys’ brows, it generally has botched the job.

And yes, it was kind of weenie for some Pacers – Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Rasual Butler – to be celebrating early Friday with a few minutes left on the game clock. They didn’t crack 80 points themselves until the bitter end and shot just 41.9 percent, with George, David West and Lance Stephenson combining to go 16-for-42. And when Bradley Beal started the fourth quarter with a quick pair of jumpers, you could sense more than the score tightening.

But what made this “Hey! Maybe they are back” outing a little different was that Indiana did so well – won the game, essentially – with a defensive lockdown reminiscent of their finest efforts of the season (i.e., pre-February).

“I thought our focus and our intent were in the right place,” said West, who jump shots on consecutive possessions midway through the fourth countered Wizards’ scores and served as daggers (even though they only got the Pacers to 72). “Everybody was locked into their schemes, sort of where they want to go with the ball, and that fueled our defense.”

Indiana controlled the pace like a team of sluggers watering down the basepaths against a bunch of base stealers. They did a better job on the boards as the night went on – Washington missed 16 shots in the first quarter and claimed seven as offensive boards. In the second half, it missed 21 shots and only grabbed back two.

The Pacers were handsier in this one, too, most often when Hibbert was back in the paint to clean up any gambles. The big guy – Indiana’s barometer lately – landed smack in the middle of his Game 1 (scoreless) and Game 2 (28 points) performances with 14 points, five boards and three blocks. But there were at least three plays in the second half when Beal veered inside only to remember No. 55 dwells there. Each time, the Wizards’ shooting guard moved the ball to a teammate, his guys got less-than-ideal shots and Indiana won all three battles.

“I’m 6-3, 6-4. He’s 7-2. So you do the math,” Beal said. “I mean, that dude is definitely a problem down there.”

If the Pacers like the way their found identity fits over the 48 hours between games, their stalwart defense could turn into momentum and pose an even bigger problem for Wall, Beal and the rest. This was one in which Washington’s limited playoff experience showed, the worst of their eight games this spring and something to avoid for however long their postseason lasts.

For Indiana, it was like bumping into an old friend.

“It felt like how we were playing at the beginning of the year,” guard George Hill said. “Really dictatating things on the defensive end. All guys locked in together, letting our defense dictate our offense. Any time we’re playing like that with all five guys on the same page, trying to help each other in the gaps, offense’ll come easy.”

Uh, let’s not go crazy. Paul George, who scored a game-high 23, called it “probably the ugliest game of the postseason.” He added: “But this is our style of basketball. Every now and then this team is fortunate enough to get hot offensively, but what we do is play defense. We’ve struggled along the way but I honestly feel like we’re getting back to it.”

Ugly victories, after all, still are …

“I think our success has always been ugly,” Hill said. “For the last three years I’ve been here, no one wants to watch us. We didn’t have that glow or that flair or them high-caliber people who [viewers] tune in to watch us.

“That gave us 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.”

Seriously, the Pacers have been unwatchable for weeks entirely on merit. But Hill’s point was a worthy one, almost as meaningful as that 64th one Washington never did score.

VIDEO: Paul George discusses Game 3 victory

24-Second thoughts — May 7

By Sekou Smith,

VIDEO: Roy Hibbert clears the air after his monster night in the Pacers’ Game 2 win over the Wizards

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – He’s all anyone wanted to talk about today, the big man from Washington D.C.

And I’m not talking about Kevin Durant, crowned as the KIA MVP Tuesday and beloved around the world after his acceptance speech went viral in the minutes and hours after the ceremony.

No, I’m talking about Indiana Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert.

We’ve dissected his performance in this postseason a million different way in just two weeks. Will he bounce back tonight and find his way? Or do we get more of the zeros across the board from him?

We shall see …

24 – Yes, I’m cheating right now. But I always like to see what my man Serge Ibaka is wearing to the arena. And I’ve got to give it up, this cat has some style …

OK, back to Game 1 Wizards @ Pacers …

23 – This has to be considered a good sign. A little closer to the basket maybe big fella?

22 – This Mark Jackson-Warriors saga is not going to fade into the background folks. Not with Jackson wasting little time in telling his version of how things came apart (via our NBA TV colleagues Rick Fox and Jared Greenberg on SiriusXM NBA Radio). It’s deep stuff, much deeper than anyone probably expected so soon after Jackson was fired. Speaking of soon, the Warriors reportedly did not waste any time trying to locate Jackson’s successor. TNT’s Steve Kerr is that man. The only question that remains is will he go with the Warriors or the Knicks? If it’s the Warriors he’ll have to win over a roster that worked its tail off for Jackson …

21 – You wonder how the Pacers’ faithful will respond tonight. Will they make the place unbearable for the Wizards. Will they throw back to their Market Square Arena days when …

20 – If inspiration is what Hibbert was looking for, he might have found it in his college coach John Thompson III. JTIII sat courtside, giving the big fella the same looks he did when he helped mold him into a player at Georgetown. It worked. Hibbert started the game with a 5-0 solo run and sparked the Pacers early as they took an early 13-5 start …

19 – Marcin Gortat is not impressed with Hibbert’s work. In fact, he’s ready to stake his claim to the title of the best big man in this series. And with Nene (who’d also like to run for that best big man office) in the locker room after injuring his left ankle and Hibbert on the bench after that hot start, Gortat might have a solid case.

He’s certainly got the best dunk, so far, of the game.

Here comes Nene …

Hibbert still hot, he’s got 11 points with a little more than five minutes to play before halftime  …

18 – Spit the seeds out. The more I watch these two teams play, the more convinced I am the Wizards, and not the Pacers, are simply the better team. For all the work Hibbert did in the first half, the Pacers had to abandon their usual ways and make it a point to involve the biggest man on the floor. It’s a desperate recipe Pacers coach Frank Vogel is working from and I’m not sure it’s going to work in this game or this series. The Wizards, meanwhile, are playing the same way they have all season and just flowing (and up 45-43 at the half) …

– dispatch from LA: Clippers coach Doc Rivers working the crowd during his pregame media availability session. Don’t poke the MVP bear Doc …

17 – These signs of life from the Pacers are encouraging. Glimpses of the team we thought they were at 33-8 are suddenly popping up on both ends of the floor. Hibbert’s been fantastic (24 points through the third quarter). Paul George (six points) has to have a big fourth quarter for the Pacers to pull away. But he can’t shake Trevor Ariza

16 – When you’re bad it can get nasty, but when you’re good …

15 – If the Pacers hold on here, Hibbert’s trip to the interview room could be epic …

14 – Big fella balled out, to the tune of 28 (on 10-for-13 shooting), nine and two blocks. And the Pacers win. All of this after that fishing trip with PGeorge and GHill … Tied at 1-1 headed to D.C.

13 – Sorry, but I couldn’t help it. Just one more …

VIDEO: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver hands over the MVP hardware to Kevin Durant

Quick hug for Moms (Wanda Pratt)

12 – Best way for the Thunder to deal with Chris Paul? Send him to the bench with those early fouls. Russell Westbrook in attack mode from the start …

Someone forgot to tell J.J. Redick

11 – The MVP with 17 points in the first quarter, one point shy of his playoff career-high for a quarter. You had to know he was going to come out smoking after all that’s gone on the past 24-plus hours and the stars (Jay-Z in OKC) turning up in OKC for the show …

10 – Ah, another night Chesapeake Energy Arena wondering who’s going to show up, Good Russ or Bad Russ? So far, so Good …

9 – There’s a lot of bad acting and flat-out trickery going on tonight. Cp3, Westbrook and even the MVP getting in on the fun. The officials can’t win, whether they blow the whistles or not someone is going to be furious with them. And everybody sees it through their own lens …

8 – The definition of an MVP …

7 – Lights go down just before halftime. Weather related? Still have to finish these finals 27 seconds and change, right …

6 – Westbrook with the quick hands on defense and in the passing lanes. He’s finishing at the rim (the nasty where Blake Griffin didn’t even bother jumping) and turning things upside down for the Clippers, who can’t scramble fast enough to cover on the defensive end.

5 – Things spiraling dangerously out of control right now for the Clippers. Westbrook doing his #forceofnature thing right now, too. Wicked!

On the flip side, Blake has been alarmingly disengaged tonight.  So you knew this was coming …

4 – The biggest game changer for the Thunder tonight wasn’t just Westbrook going off, or even Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins turning into factors. It was Steven Adams adding the physical thump needed for the Thunder to make sure this series goes to Los Angeles tied up at 1-1.

3 – Leave it up to Westbrook to crash (in a good way, though) Durant’s MVP party. The rest of the world doesn’t get how they co-exist. But they make it work … #chasingadoubletripledouble #neverhappenedbefore …

– Still hasn’t happened. Westbrook got his (although with a controversial 10th assist), while the MVP went to the bench one assist shy of the triple-double.

2 – It’s been that kind of night for CP3! And Doc has to know it’s “turrible” …

1 – The MVP, RussWest and the Thunder finish the business in style …

VIDEO: Russell Westbrook’s exclamation point dunk for Wednesday’s Game 2 win over the Clippers

Wizards flex rare road-court advantage

By Steve Aschburner,

VIDEO: Go inside Randy Wittman’s huddle in the Wizards’ Game 1 win in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS – In their development as a young, formidable NBA team, the Washington Wizards’ preternatural ability to win road games is like putting their socks and shoes on before pulling on their pants.

It seems so out of order.

A tradition built from vapor, too. The Wizards were 22-19 on the road this season, tied for the league’s eighth-best mark (their 22-19 home record ranked only 18th). That was a remarkable leap considering Washington was 7-34 a year ago, 9-24 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and 3-38 the season before that.

This trend has only intensified lately: The Wizards are the first team to win their first four road playoff games, all against higher-seeded opponents, since the New Jersey Nets managed it in 1984. They knocked off the Bulls in five games by winning all three at Chicago’s United Center. Then they grabbed the series opener Monday against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Traditionally in this league, teams on the rise learn to take care of business at home, then aim for .500 as they grow and build.

“Winning on the road’s a belief,” coach Randy Wittman said before his team’s practice Tuesday at the University of Indianapolis. “You’ve got to believe you’re going to go into any gym … and if we do things the way we’re capable of doing, we’re gonna win. A lot of times before [this season], you could play your best game and not have a chance to win.”

Wittman may be right in touting the intangibles involved in winning on the other guys’ courts because statistically, there is scant evidence to explain the success. Washington scored a little more on the road (101.0 vs. 100.3) but defended worse (100.5 vs. 98.3) than at home. Its differentials in rebounding, assists and shooting percentages showed little impact.

Individually, point guard John Wall averaged 3.4 ppg less on the road, with a 41.2 FG% that drooped from his 45.3 at home. Backcourt mate Bradley Beal showed some notable gains away from Verizon Center: 3.4 ppg and a bump from 39.8 percent shooting to 43.6 percent on the road. His offensive rating jumped from 97.0 to 106 in the NBA’s other buildings.

Forward Trevor Ariza also bumped up, by 2.9 ppg and with an offensive rating of 114 compared to 108 at home. He shot significantly better, inside and outside the arc.

Then again, winning as often on the road as at home doesn’t require big shifts in production; it mostly asks that a team’s performance doesn’t drop off in hostile environments. That’s where Washington has been notable – so much so, it was the only team in the league in 2013-14 that didn’t have a worse record on the road than at home.

“Your guess is as good as mine. But I think we like playing against other crowds,” Beal said. “We were the total opposite last year. I think we come out a lot more focused. We’ve bought in. On the road we’re not worried about too many distractions – it’s just us.”

Center Marcin Gortat has talked of this occasionally this season – a tendency not only to be distracted by the demands of daily life when playing in D.C., but to relax and expect more help from a crowd at Verizon Center that tends to be more wait-and-see. Some think that Wall and others focus too much at home on entertaining and rousing Wizards fans, compared to just sticking it to the throngs in the other arenas.

“When I played in Portland, we weren’t a good home team but we were dominant on the road,” guard Martell Webster said. “We play for each other on the road – same as at home – but I guess you feel a little more complacent and comfortable at home. On the road, there’s more of a sense of urgency and guys understanding that the odds are stacked against us. For us, that was comfortable. We enjoyed doing that.”

Said veteran forward Al Harrington, who rarely has seen this trend in his stops with seven different franchises: “I don’t know if it’s because we’re away from our families and stuff where guys can really lock in. But this is a great group where nobody goes out the night before games. Guys take it very serious, that next game.

“There’s no curfew. We could do whatever we want to do, but these young guys choose to stay in. I think that’s the biggest difference – we come out on the road with so much energy, so much focus.”

VIDEO: Wizards grab early advantage with Game 1 win in Indianapolis

Morning Shootaround — May 6

VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 5


Game belongs to CP3 | LeBron focused on title, not MVP | Wall and Beal lead young Wizards past Pacers | Spurs look to their bench for boost | Hibbert’s teammates fed up, need more from All-Star big man

No. 1: CP3 answers the bell, silences his critics in opener –  Silence. That’s what Chris Paul did to his critics in Game 1 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ conference semifinal in Oklahoma City Monday night. Folks who questioned whether or not he was ready to play through whatever pain he’s experienced with a sore hamstring and aching thumb found out early, and often, that he was not going to be denied. And a determined Paul, with all that he has been through recently,  is still a force to be reckoned with in these playoffs. Bill Plaschke of the The Los Angeles Times explains:

Chris Paul entered this postseason famous for a ring he doesn’t have, a city he doesn’t own, and a television commercial featuring a twin brother who doesn’t exist.

Maybe that’s why, on a wind-stopping Monday night in Oklahoma City, he spent three hours shouting, “Enough.”

Enough of the talk that he’s too injured and weary to lead the Clippers to NBA greatness, as the smallest starter ducked his head and shouldered them to a stunning 122-105 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the opener of their second-round series.

Enough of the idea that his sore hamstring and thumb limit him offensively, as he missed just two of 14 shots and just one of nine three-point attempts, scoring 32 points in the best pure shooting postseason game of his career.

Enough of the talk that he’s too slow defensively, as he led a swarming Clippers defense that deadened the dazzling Thunder offense into 18 turnovers, resulting in 23 points.

Enough, enough, enough of the idea that Donald Sterling has anything to do with this anymore.

Paul’s role as president of the players’ union meant he was especially stressed during the Sterling-stained opening series. He led the players in their jersey protest while wearing black socks and sleeves. Until the final quarter of Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors, he struggled throughout the series with his strength and focus, and even admitted that he was one of several Clippers who fell asleep during Sunday night’s film session here.

A day later, biting through the Thunder and its roaring college-type crowd as if they were his dangling mouthpiece, Paul made it clear that everything was different.

“Maybe with all that stuff that happened, winning that series allowed him to breathe a little bit,” said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers afterward.

Paul showed up in a white sleeve and white socks. He took his first shot midway through the first quarter. It was a three-point attempt. He swished. He missed his next shot moments later. He didn’t miss again until there were barely five minutes left in the third quarter. During that time, he hit jumpers against seven different Thunder defenders, and ended any last Thunder gasp early in the third quarter with a tumbling three-pointer from the corner with Russell Westbrook in his face.

“That’s what I do. That’s what I do. [Pause] That’s a lie,” said Paul with a laugh when asked about his treys. “This one will definitely go down in the history books for me. Don’t count on it for Game 2, I’ll tell you that.”


Beal plays older, Gooden looks younger to lift Wizards over Pacers

By Steve Aschburner,

VIDEO: Bradley Beal scores 14 fourth-quarter points to put Pacers away in Game 1

INDIANAPOLIS – Young and Done.

It’s not a law firm. It’s shorthand for Bradley Beal and Drew Gooden, difference-makers for the Washington Wizards in their Game 1 victory over Indiana in the Eastern Conference semifinals series that began Monday night at cranky-again Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Unlikely difference-makers, frankly, if you go by their career arcs and how neither of them would be anyone’s Goldilocks choice to wreak havoc on the Pacers. Beal is too young – eight weeks shy of his 21st birthday still, after two years on the job as the Wizards’ smooth-shooting off-guard. Even for a guy mature beyond his years and a player who led his team in scoring (19.8 ppg) in the first round against Chicago, each mile of the postseason road is supposed to be tougher, the task too much for kids.

Gooden, on the other hand, was too done, stirred from his Barcalounger at the end of February by Washington’s offer of a 10-day contract that begat a second, then finally a deal to finish the season. The 32-year-old journeyman (nine teams, 12 seasons) was a backup NBA big man in theory more than in practice when the Wizards called. Nearly 11 months had lapsed after his final appearance with Milwaukee late in his little-used (16 games) 2012-13 season.

So there they were, taking over the opener and taking apart Indiana with the sort of unexpected performances the playoffs throw at us just often enough to keep everyone coming back.

Beal scored 14 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter and six of them on a pair of 3-pointers that doused any comeback glimmer in the Pacers’ eyes. Paul George completed a 3-point play that made it 82-76 with 7:41 to go, only to have the Wizards find Beal in the left corner. He reached high and shot over Indiana forward Luis Scola with the shot clock about to fire and the lead was back to nine.

It was 87-78 about 80 seconds later when Beal stole the ball from Lance Stephenson and got it back from teammate John Wall. He drained another one to send the Pacers into a timeout, and it was already too late.

“The way I think about it is, I’m 20 years old,” Beal said. “Playing in the playoffs is something I’ve always dreamed about. So why not embrace it? Why not accept that challenge and just have fun with it? That’s all I’m doing man, I’m just having fun on a great team.”

Said Gooden: “I’ve got a nickname for him – Young Pro. When other people ask me about his work ethic, I say, ‘Y’know, he’s always in the gym working on his game.’ So tonight every time he hit a shot, I told him, ‘That’s why you put the work in.’ He was hitting shots with the shot clock going down, with guys in his face, step-backs, three’s … whenever he shoots it, not just me but the whole team knows it’s going in.”

While Beal was breaking the Pacers’ backs, Gooden was crushing their will. On a night when their All-Star (and richly paid) center Roy Hibbert was back in his zero-points, zero-rebounds funk, Gooden came strong with 12 points and 13 rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. It was a performance ripe for one of those shrugs he gave back in March, when he burned Brooklyn and Sacramento with his work inside and even out a few from the arc. Washington crushed the home team on the boards and ate from it (19 second-chance points).

One of the fans who heckled Beal near the end over a free throw he airballed also got on Gooden. “He told me, ‘I thought you retired,’ ” Gooden said. “I said, ‘I did. But they pulled me back in.’ “

Gooden, who might have figured his nights like Monday were long gone, said he had a role model for what he’s doing now. “I used a guy by the name of Tim Thomas as motivation,” he said. “There was a season where, I think, he left Chicago, went to New York and got waived and was just sitting out for a couple months, three months. Then Amar’e Stoudemire got hurt and he came into Phoenix and had a great playoffs, and almost led them into the Western Conference finals.

“So I used that as motivation that it can be done.”

Actually, Thomas – the No. 7 pick in 1997 – had been dealt to Chicago at the start of 2005-06. But after three appearances, the Bulls drydocked him. Sitting at home, waived in March, he did what Gooden recalled, refurbishing his career briefly by averaging 15.1 points and hitting 44.4 percent of his 3-pointers in 20 postseason games with the Suns.

While Beal, in his precociousness, and Gooden, in his resiliency, might have caught some NBA fans unaware in Game 1, they did precisely what Wizards coach Randy Wittman wanted by staying in the moment. With all the scouting, all the analytics, all the walk-throughs and the practices, you’d think all spontaneity would be wrung from the playoffs.

And then, with a couple of performances like theirs, you find yourself watching and being tempted to do one of these yourself.