Pacers Take Their Season to the Limit

Where does one start to describe this most improbable double-overtime victory, one of the most memorable regular season games in franchise history?

Forget that. It's about the finish now for the Pacers, whose season comes down to one game: tonight at Memphis, with their playoff status on the line. It's as close to a must-win as a regular season game can get. Win and they're in as the eighth seed. Lose and they're out, unless Brooklyn loses a home game to 25-56 Orlando.

"It's mental now, that's the biggest thing," C.J. Miles said after scoring a game-high 25 points in Tuesday's 99-95 win over Washington. "How bad do you want it?"

First, they'll want some rest. Tuesday's game started an hour later than normal, at 8 p.m., for national television, and then went two excruciating overtimes. It ended about 10 minutes past 11 p.m. After their Fan Appreciation Night activities on the court and their media obligations in the locker room, they had no shot at a reasonable departure time. Their flight to Memphis landed at 2:20 a.m.

The best news of the day for the Pacers will be that Wednesday's game also has been pushed back an hour, to a 9:30 EST start. The only thing that could top that would be a generous Grizzlies' injury report. Guard Tony Allen, one of the NBA's best perimeter defenders, is out. Point guard Mike Conley (ankle) has missed the last three games and is questionable. All-Star center Marc Gasol (ankle) is also questionable.

The only certainty is that the Grizzlies (54-27) will try to win it. They'll finish with either the fifth of sixth playoff seeding in the Western Conference, depending on Wednesday's outcome.

"It will be difficult to sit people out not knowing all of the other scenarios that can play out," Memphis coach Dave Joerger told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. "And if you go out and not do the best that you can, what are you saying to your fans or your team for the journey you have been on?"

Washington tried to win Tuesday's game, despite having its playoff position locked in. Coach Randy Wittman was coy before the game when asked if he would play his starters their normal minutes, but he did. And more, thanks to the extra 10 minutes the overtimes brought to the game.

The Pacers, however, overcame a putrid shooting performance to make just enough plays down the stretch – stretches, really – to win. They missed their first nine shots, and tossed in a turnover as well, before George Hill scored their first basket with 7:45 left in the first quarter. They hit just 7-of-27 shots (.259) in the first quarter and 8-of-25 (.320) in the second before finding anything resembling an offense.

They won for more reasons than cyberspace can contain, but there are some of them:

— Miles and Hill combined to outscore Washington's backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, 49-35. Keep in mind, Wall was the first pick in the NBA draft and Beal the third, while Hill went 26th and Miles 34th.

— Hill who had 24 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists, slogged his way through much of the game, struggling to get shots and hit shots. He hit just one of his first nine 3-point attempts, but hit the game's biggest shot, a 3-pointer from the left wing with 27.8 seconds left in the second overtime that opened a five-point lead. "Just trying to make a play," he said.

— Miles, who scored 30 points in Sunday's win over Oklahoma City, led this one with 25 points. He hit just 4-of-13 3-pointers, but hit one to open the scoring in the second overtime. "I missed some good looks," he said. "Especially in the corners. Even when I wasn't shooting particularly well (early in the season), when I got open looks in the corner I'd make them. Tonight I felt like I rushed them a little bit. Maybe I was a little too hyped."

—Roy Hibbert managed a happy ending to a horrific game – a horrific season against the Wizards, really. He had hit just 1-of-17 shots in the first three games against them, and had missed all five of his attempts after the first three quarters of this game. You could hear the mumbles of discontent when he re-entered the game with 7:50 left in the fourth quarter, but he came to life.

He dove on the floor to help secure Paul George's steal shortly after entering the game. He got a layup on a feed from Hill later in the period for his first points, and then made one of the game's biggest plays by spinning underneath the basket and tipping in David West's missed foul shot to give the Pacers a four-point lead with 2:05 left in the fourth period. He also preserved a possession late in the first overtime by diving into the Washington bench after a loose ball, which went out of bounds off Otto Porter. He made that pay off by hitting a 20-foot shot off Hill's feed with 57.5 seconds left that tied the game. He admitted to tearing up after that one.

"For some reason I have an Achilles heel against those guys," he said. "They have pretty tough defenders. I just tried to keep playing and my teammates found me in certain areas. I wanted to give up myself and play with a lot of effort."

— West, as usual, made several clutch plays that could have gone unnoticed amid the frenzy. The Wizards had the ball and a chance to win the game at the end of the first overtime, but West deflected the ball – it was officially credited as a blocked shot – off the driving Beal. The Pacers got possession with 2.9 seconds left, but Paul George missed a 30-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer.

West had six points, a rebound and a steal in the second overtime. He saved one possession when Hill was posted up 15 feet from the basket with nowhere to go by cutting to the basket and getting a layup just ahead of the shot clock, opening a five-point lead. He also hit a 19-footer with 57.7 seconds left to regain a four-point lead.

He also took it upon himself to switch off and defend Marcin Gortat late in the game because the players he was guarding were straying too far from the basket and keeping him out of the mix.

"You combine his will and determination with his IQ, and understanding of figuring out a team at both ends of the court," Vogel said. "Just working a game and finding a way to win."

— George went 2 minutes and 46 seconds beyond his 15-minute time limit and scored 10 points. He's still unable to get to the basket in heavy traffic, but his two of his four 3-point attempts, knocked down a game-tying 20-footer with 22.4 seconds left in the first overtime and brought length to the defense.

"I was happy to get one to go down," he said. "I'm still trying to find my way. I had a big on me and was able to create some space."

George said he felt fine afterward, and expects to be able to go another 15 minutes or so in Memphis, where drama will rule the evening.

"We control our destiny," George said, "so everybody's got to bring everything. We're in survival mode. We've got to get this win."

Point guard is a concern for the Pacers. Hill is playing with a strained back. Backup C.J. Watson has missed the last five games, and is questionable for Wednesday's game. Third option Donald Sloan is playing, but struggling because of a turf toe and has gone scoreless the last three games.

The Pacers, though, have momentum. They've won six straight games, including the five since Paul George returned. And they're finishing their season in Memphis, home of the Blues, as they seek a happy ending to one of the most challenging seasons in franchise history.

Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.