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.

https://twitter.com/MrMichaelLee/status/466334546611671040

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.

2017 NBA playoffs have been historically uncompetitive

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
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The NBA Finals so many wanted to see – Cavaliers-Warriors III – is here.

At least it will be.

Today is the first of six off days before the 2017, which begin June 1 in Oakland.

The lengthy delay is the product of an underwhelming postseason featuring few competitive series and numerous blowouts.

Golden State swept its way through the West, and Cleveland dropped only one game (to the Celtics in the conference finals) while winning the East. There have been only two Game 7s, but considering the magnitude, neither felt that compelling. Blake Griffin‘s injury undercut the Clippers against the Jazz, and Celtics over Wizards felt inevitable with home teams winning each game of the series. Between, there have been several lackluster games and series.

There have been just 74 playoff games this year – the fewest before the Finals since since the NBA instituted a best-of-seven first round in 2003:

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That’s 74 of a possible 98 games – 76%, the lowest since 1999 and seventh-lowest ever.

Even if the Finals go seven games, it will be the fewest games in a postseason since 2007. If the Finals go five or fewer games, it’ll be the shortest postseason in this playoff format.

And it hasn’t just been quantity. The quality of games has been lacking, too.

Though there were more blowouts last year by nearly any measure, the 2017 postseason’s average margin in pre-Finals games (13.5) is fifth-highest all-time and second-highest since 1959 (behind 2016, 14.2).

Combine the two factors, and these are the drabbest playoffs in nearly 50 years. Here’s each postseason plotted by average margin in pre-Finals games and percentage of possible games pre-Finals:

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This probably just confirms what you’ve seen: The 2017 playoffs have been in a rut.

We’re all counting on the Cavaliers and Warriors to salvage this postseason, but considering how deep the hole is, anything less than an epic Finals probably won’t cut it.

Kyrie Irving crosses over Avery Bradley, hits 3-pointer (video)

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Avery Bradley got around one screen then, thanks to Kyrie Irving‘s excellent ball-handling, lunged at another that wasn’t coming as Irving hit a 3-pointer.

LeBron James beautifully pass-fakes, makes layup in transition (video)

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LeBron James is a treasure.

Shaquille O’Neal’s big toe is seriously jacked up (PHOTO)

shaq o'neal
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Remember how we we all freaked out when we saw pictures of LeBron James‘ feet back in 2013?

You probably didn’t want to be reminded that it existed, but it does. Still. And apparently jacked up feet is the consequence of a lifetime of playing professional basketball. Once can only assume it has something to do with tight shoes and constant, hard changes of direction in said tight shoes.

We got yet another vision of what basketball shoes can do to feet on Thursday when TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal showed off his, er, little piggies.

Much to the horror of the Internet in general, it was Shaq’s right big toe that took social media by storm. Mostly because it’s not even close to pointing in the right direction.

I’m going to show you what it looks like. Be forewarned, it might just be NSFL.

Via Twitter:

Oh. Oh … why?

Social media reacted appropriately and proportionately:

Shaq did have issues with that toe during the course of his career, and at one point it was so bad that he had to have surgery to remove bone spurs from the toe in 2002.

That still doesn’t explain why it’s all over your TV and the Internet, but here we are. I am sorry.