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Pacers Can't Assume Too Much

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 13, 2014

It's about assumption. It's about human nature, too, especially the Pacers' version of it.

Coming off two inspiring road wins in Washington and bringing a 3-1 advantage into a potential close-out game of their conference semifinal series, the Pacers did everything but set up chaise lounge chairs on the court, kick back and relax on Tuesday. They paid for that familiar tendency with a 102-79 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that drew boos from their fans by the third quarter and reignited their doubters.

PACERS-WIZARDS GAME 5 RECAP

It was the second-largest homecourt playoff loss in franchise history, and it was worse than it looks in the box score. The Wizards led by 30 in the fourth quarter before the Pacers' reserves chipped away in garbage time. The rebounding difference, meanwhile, was historic. The Pacers' 23 rebounds were a franchise low for the postseason. Washington's 62 rebounds were an opponent's record for the franchise, regular season included. Washington hit half of its shots but still grabbed 18 offensive rebounds. The Pacers hit just 39 percent of their shots but recovered only four of them.

That sort of mass letdown defies analysis, and the Pacers didn't attempt any beyond the obvious.

“We just lacked toughness; we lacked energy tonight,” Paul George said. “We just didn't have that grit tonight. It was almost like we were assuming there would be another game after this, instead of putting this one away.”

Assumption.

The popular postgame notion was to scratch a head and declare the Pacers a puzzling team, but they're actually quite predictable. They get soft when things are going well and they get tougher when they're faced with adversity. That's true for most teams, but none more than them.

They are the team, remember, that built a comfortable advantage in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, then collapsed, but then won the games they had to win at the end to preserve it.

They are the team that lost Game 1 at home in their first-round series with Atlanta, recovered to win Game 4 in Atlanta to regain homecourt advantage, then lost Game 5 at home, but then won Games 6 and 7 to win the series.

They are the team that lost Game 1 at home to Washington, only to win Games 3 and 4 and set up Tuesday's enticing opportunity. Now they have to go back to Washington for Game 6. If that one doesn't shake them out of their comfort zone, they'll have Game 7 back at the fieldhouse on Sunday.

Urgency fuels everyone, whether it's a writer on deadline or a college kid pulling an all-nighter to finish a term paper. Some teams can manufacture it when necessary, but the Pacers aren't one of those teams yet. They apparently need a heavy dose of desperation to rise to the occasion.

Fans are susceptible, too. Long before tipoff, while players from both teams were putting up shots, a man stood behind the Wizards bench and held up a sign that read “Bring on Miami.”

Assumption.

Why can't a team take motivation from a 3-1 lead that presents the opportunity to end a series and get a day or two off before beginning the next round?

“I don't have the answer for that,” David West said. “I thought we were prepared.”

West was the only starter not to play below his norm. George, who scored 39 points in Game 4, managed 15 on 5-of-15 shooting, and had just one rebound. Roy Hibbert, who had appeared to be revived after a scoreless Game 1, scored four on 2-of-7 shooting, had two rebounds, and was party to Wizards center Marcin Gortat scoring 31 points on 13-of-15 shooting. Lance Stephenson played 28 minutes without grabbing a rebound. George Hill, who had outplayed Washington point guard John Wall through the first four games, was outscored 27-3.

A group effort, for sure.

“We get too happy,” George said. “We don't carry that same mindset after we win a couple of games. We get comfortable and we think because we're starting to play a little better that things are just going to get right. We don't bring that edge.”

The Pacers still have two games to win one to win this series. But, does Game 6 bring enough desperation to bring out their best, or do they need to wait until Game 7 to really feel it? They have this going for them: they are 4-0 in this postseason following a loss. George is in favor of treating Game 6 like Game 7, but then he had said the same thing about Game 5 Tuesday morning.

“We've got to go get (Game 6), by any means,” he said. “We don't want to draw this one out any further than we already just did. This is a must-win. We've got to come into this game like we're down 2-3 instead of being up 3-2. This is a must-win for this group. Every loose ball, every rebound … anything we can have control over, we have to.”

The burden shifts for Washington, too. It could afford to play fast and loose on Tuesday because expectations were minimal. Coach Randy Wittman turned Wall loose, telling him not to worry about turnovers, to go down playing his game if necessary. Wall responded. But going home isn't necessarily a positive development for the Wizards. They went 3-0 on the road in their first-round series with Chicago, and 1-1 at home. They're now 2-1 on the road against the Pacers, and 0-2 at home.

Yet, former Pacer Al Harrington danced off the court Tuesday and shouted to nobody in particular, “See everybody on Sunday!”

That would be the date of Game 7. But to get there, the Wizards will have to win Game 6.

Assumption.

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