David West scored 18 of his game-high 29 points after halftime to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 93-80 win over the Washington Wizards in Game 6 of their second-round playoff matchup on Thursday. The victory gave the Pacers a 4-2 win in the best-of-seven series, eliminating the Wizards and setting up an Eastern Conference finals rematch with the Miami Heat, who dispatched the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday and who knocked off the Pacers in seven games last season en route to their second straight NBA championship.
"We've been talking about this series all year," West, who also pulled down six rebounds and dished four assists in 38 1/2 minutes of work, told ESPN's Doris Burke after the win. "We've had a different path than they had, but we're here."
After being held to just 12.5 points per game on 40.8 percent shooting through the first four games of this series while locked up in a bruising low-post battle with Wizards big man Nene, West rediscovered an offensive rhythm in Game 5 (marking him as perhaps the only Pacer to do so in the blowout loss). The veteran power forward carried that scoring touch into Game 6 at Verizon Center, lighting the Wizards up off pick-and-pop, high-post and elbow actions with knockdown midrange shooting — he went 10-for-14 on attempts taken between the paint and 3-point line, bailing out possession after possession with calm, confident shot-making.
West was far from the only Pacer who had it going early, as Indiana roared back from its dismal 39 percent shooting mark in Game 5 by making 13 of its first 19 shots, scoring 29 points in the opening frame.
With the exception of Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson bullying Wizards sophomore star Bradley Beal on a couple of forays to the paint, there wasn't anything lacking in Washington's defensive approach — the Pacers just hit a ton of contested shots. Roy Hibbert muscled through Marcin Gortat to drop in a hook and knocked down a face-up jumper in the Game 5 star's mug. All-Star Paul George hit a pair with hands in his face. West, predictably, did his elbow thing, frustrating a Wizards crew that started out pretty hot themselves, with Nene getting on the board on the game's first play and Gortat and John Wall each canning their first two tries, but tapered off to head into the second quarter down by six.
Indy cooled down a bit in the second quarter, but not nearly as much as the Wizards, who went just 6-for-18 from the floor and managed just one field goal in a 5-1/2-minute stretch that saw the Pacers expand their lead to double figures, and head into halftime with a 52-40 advantage.
After struggling in third quarters throughout this series, though, Randy Wittman's club came out of intermission with a purpose, pushing the ball off Pacer misses and opening the second half with an 11-4 run, capped by a hell-bent-for-leather Wall layup that cut the lead to seven and got the crowd at the Phone Booth cranked up. But Frank Vogel's club weathered the storm, defending tough in the paint on the next few Wizards possessions, with West turning a rebound of a missed Wall layup into a quick outlet to a leaking-out Stephenson for a runout dunk and tipping home a Hibbert miss to push the lead back to 11.
"I just didn't want us to lose this game," West told ESPN's Doris Burke after the game. "I just told coach, 'We're gonna win this game. We're gonna win this game.' I just came out with the focus. The guys trusted me — I told them, 'You get in trouble, just find me at the top. I'm gonna bring us home tonight.'"
He did exactly that, carrying the load offensively when the Pacers' attack bogged down after intermission. West hit five of the eight shots Indiana made in the third quarter and scored 10 of its 19 points in the frame, helping the Pacers stay on top as a Wizards squad that struggled mightily on both ends in the first half began to make a run. And after a Bradley Beal 3-pointer put Washington back in front, 74-73, at the 8:31 mark of the fourth — the first time it had the lead since just inside the nine-minute mark of the first — West promptly drilled two long step-back jumpers, putting Indiana back up by three.
"David just has a way of settling our young guys down," said Vogel, who advances to his second straight Eastern Conference final and improves to 26-22 in the postseason in his four-year NBA coaching career. "We're lucky to have David West."
West's jumpers not only settled the Pacers troops — they also sparked a 17-2 run that spanned nearly 7 1/2 minutes, with the ball continuing to run through West's sure hands on offense and Indiana's long-armed, active perimeter defenders clamping down on the backcourt tandem of Beal and Wall, who shot a combined 0-for-7 during the stretch that effectively ended the Wizards' season.
Washington's last legit shot came with just under three minutes remaining, trailing by nine at 85-76, as Gortat rebounded a West miss and sent it over to Wall, who took off to the races in transition and found Beal spotting up behind the arc on the right wing. The 20-year-old sharpshooter gathered, rose and fired ... an airball, which was corralled by Pacers point guard George Hill. Wall had another crack at a layup, getting into the paint off the pick-and-roll and challenging Hibbert, but the resurgent 7-foot-2 behemoth flexed his "principle of verticality" muscles, accepting Wall's contact and sending him to the deck as the shot went awry; on the other end, a runner by Stephenson — who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 41 minutes — pushed the lead back to 11. Forty seconds and a pair of missed Washington triples later, a West 20-footer — naturally — all but concluded a season that saw Washington win 44 games and advance past the first round for the first time in nine years, but still came up short of the ultimate goal.
"I think we all felt we had an opportunity here to do more than we did, and that's a good feeling for those guys," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said after the game, according to The Associated Press. "They're hurting in there, and when you hurt, that means you care."
Gortat, playing his last game before entering unrestricted free agency this summer, led the Wizards with 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting to go with six rebounds, while frontcourt partner Nene chipped in 15 and six. Beal, struggling with Stephenson's strength in his defensive matchup and bothered by the length of perimeter defensive ace George when he tried to get cooking offensively, shot just 7-for-19 from the floor, finishing with 16 points. Wall, likewise hounded all series long by Hill, scored 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting with nine assists, five rebounds, five turnovers and two steals, authoring a disappointing ending to a season that saw him become an All-Star and take major steps forward as a shooter, playmaker, defender and leader.
But as Washington heads home for the summer, the Pacers' season — this absurd rollercoaster ride of a campaign that has seen them soar to the top of the NBA, crash down to the ranks of the league's worst offenses, lose their All-Star center completely for more than a month and suffer through an existential crisis that had them on the brink of a first-round exit at the hands of a sub-.500 No. 8 seed, only to bounce back in what seems like the nick of time — continues, marching into the conference title matchup that we all expected to see before the start of the season, but that nobody expected to come about quite like this.
"We've been through a lot — you know, everybody's counting us out," West told Burke. "They thought we were gonna lose to Atlanta. Just, I mean, this group has stayed strong. We've remained confident in one another. We've trusted one another. Even when we've had some internal turmoil, we've trusted one another, stayed together. We put it all on the line tonight and came out with a big win."
They'll need four more to exorcise last season's demons and prove that, after three months of mostly mediocre ball, they're still built to beat the best. The series for which this entire season has been a preamble starts Sunday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Heat will be waiting.
- - - - - - -