WASHINGTON — The offense was dragging and desperately in need of some direction when coach Randy Wittman called on his most tested veterans to serve up a lesson in ball movement, hustle and huge shots. With Andre Miller putting on a point guard clinic, Al Harrington delivering a flashback offensive performance and Drew Gooden dashing all over the court with abandon, the Washington Wizards went into the locker room Sunday with a double-digit halftime lead over the Indiana Pacers.
When the Wizards returned for the third quarter and Wittman put the game back into the hands of his starters, the offense flew off the rails once again.
Of course, this was the scenario during the Wizards' 95-92 defeat in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, their third in the best-of-seven series. But it was almost a repeat of what occurred in Charlotte on March 31, when the Wizards squandered a 16-point lead and wasted a solid effort from their 30-something backups. At the time, it was the 11th regular-season game in which Washington blew a double-digit lead.
The Wizards appeared to have kidnapped that unfocused team and tied it up in the basement. Unfortunately, that version of the team escaped and resurfaced at the most inopportune time. In another miserable third-quarter performance, the Wizards allowed a 19-point lead to get down to one, setting the stage for their most disappointing loss of the postseason. If they lose tonight at Indiana, their season is over.
"I don't know if we ran out of gas or what, but we didn't have the same confidence … to try to increase the lead," Gooden said.
Washington has lost the third quarter of every game this series. But in Games 1 and 2 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Wizards were outscored by a combined 12 points. In Games 3 and 4 at Verizon Center, they were outscored by a combined 30.
Nene made a driving layup on Sunday to put the Wizards ahead, 57-38, to start the third period and added another to give his team a 14-point lead, glaring at the officials in search of a foul call. But the offense hit the skids from there, with the Pacers forcing Washington into terrible passes and even more questionable shots.
Indiana closed out the third period on a 15-2 run, getting all of its production from its All-Star tandem of Roy Hibbert and Paul George. Hibbert had been relatively quiet in the first half, scoring just two points with three of his shots rejected. But the Pacers repeatedly fed him and let him go to work on struggling center Marcin Gortat.
Hibbert scored seven straight points, then George hit a three 3-pointer. Hibbert made another layup and Paul answered a jumper by Gooden with a 3-pointer that sent his team into the fourth quarter trailing by just one point.
The Pacers outscored the Wizards 33-17 in the period. John Wall missed all three of his shots and a free throw, went scoreless and had two turnovers. George was calm and composed and dropped four three 3-pointers while Hibbert had nine points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.