Marcin Gortat dominates, re-raising all the same old questions about the Pacers

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In the first quarter, Marcin Gortat asserted himself. In the second, he was calling for the ball. By the third, he couldn’t stop smiling.

And in the fourth, he played.

Not that he needed to for long.

After sitting the entire fourth quarter of Game 4, Gortat posted 31 points and 16 rebounds – matching career-high scoring in any game and setting career playoff-high rebounding – to lead the Washington Wizards to a 102-79 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 Tuesday.

By winning three straight games, the Pacers seemed to have put their problems behind them. But in passively dropping their series advantage to 3-2, Indiana suddenly looks every bit the mentally fragile and physically timid team that struggled late in the regular season and nearly lost to the Hawks in the first round.

When Gortat led the game for good early in the fourth quarter, he had as many rebounds as the entire Pacers team.

Gortat was a beast all game, efficiently shooting 13-for-15, crashing the offensive glass and neutralizing Roy Hibbert (four points and two rebounds).

In a pivotal stretch, though, John Wall took over.

The Pacers had outscored Washington by 6, 6, 14 and 16 points in the third quarters of Games 1-4. Wizards coach Randy Wittman was so concerned about his players’ halftime routine, he jokingly suggested before the game they wouldn’t return to the locker room.

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Wittman didn’t follow through, and the Wizards missed the best halftime act in the business – Quick Change.

But they didn’t miss the quickest player in the series change the flow of the game.

Wall scored 17 of his 27 points (a high in his first playoffs) in the third quarter, taking over after struggling with turnovers earlier in the game.

Wall also defended well, helping to hold George Hill to 1-of-8 shooting, and finished with five assists and five rebounds. Trevor Ariza (10 points and 10 rebounds), Bradley Beal (18 points and eight rebounds) and Drew Gooden (nine rebounds) also contributed on the glass to help Washington outrebound Indiana by an astonishing 62-23 margin.

Once again, the Pacers look hapless. Maybe they can win Game 6 Thursday in Washington, where they’ve won both games this series. But by faltering tonight, they’ll face the common questions about their state of mind, and those inquiries could draw out previously buried insecurities.

The only advantage Indiana has right now is its 3-2 series lead – though that’s a big one.

Overcoming a 3-1 deficit is not easy, but the Wizards’ ability to win on the road gives them a chance. Washington has now won five road games these playoffs. All 67 teams to win five road games in a postseason have reached the conference finals (or, as they were previously known, division finals).

Before playing a Game 7 in Indiana, the Wizards would have to win Game 6 in a place they’ve lost two straight. But maybe, on the road tonight, they found a solution – just (Polish) Hammer it home.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.