Bradley Beal snatched the ball right from Roy Hibbert’s hands.
The Wizards guard dribbled to the other end and buried a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, giving Washington its first lead since Thursday’s opening minutes. It looked like the type of sequence that defines a series.
On the next possession, David West made a mid-range jumper.
The Pacers looked weak, leaving Game 6 available for the taking, but the listless Wizards couldn’t seize it. Thanks to West scoring 29 points, Indiana led for all but 29 seconds of the final 44 minutes and finished off Washington, 93-80, in the six-game series.
The Pacers move onto their second straight Eastern Conference Finals, where they’ll face the Miami Heat in a postseason series for the third straight year.
“We’ve been talking about this series all year,” West said. “We’ve had a different path than they’ve had, but we’re here.”
Different is right.
The Heat needed nine games to win eight. The Pacers took 13 – and it weren’t for the Wizards’ lethargy, this series could have been headed toward a Game 7.
Indiana surprisingly easily built a 16-point lead early in the third quarter (on, you guessed it, a West mid-range jumper). For a long time, the Wizards didn’t show up, but they finally woke up.
John Wall got more aggressive, and that made everyone, especially Marcin Gortat, more effective.
There was just too much lousiness to overcome. Trevor Ariza (1-for-5 shooting, –24) looked particularly disjointed, and Washington’s bench shot just 4-for-15.
There was also too much West, who solidified Indiana’s offense on a night his teammates rarely looked in rhythm.
“I told them, ‘If you get in trouble, just find me at the top,’” said West, who took twice as many shots as his next closest teammate (Lance Stephenson, 13 shots for 17 points) and scored his most points in a playoff game in six years. “’I’m going to bring us home tonight.’”
Home will be much more welcoming for the Pacers than it was for Washington.
The Wizards won their most playoff games in 35 years, but it’s also still been that long since they won a home playoff game beyond the first round. Washington, which lost all three of its home games this series, was at least rewarded with an ovation in the final minute after receiving boos in Game 3.
Only time will tell whether this was a breakthrough season for a young and growing team or a subpar team taking advantage of a historically bad conference.
The Wizards seem likely to return a similar roster after surpassing their major goals, though the possibility of big turnover exists. Gortat, Ariza and coach Randy Wittman become free agents this summer.
For the Pacers, steadiness rules – even if they look incredibly unsteady in the process. In fits and backward stumbles and forward steps, they keep trudging closer to their goal. The end is in sight, and Indiana was specifically designed to beat their next opponent.
Like a David West mid-range jumper, the Pacers aren’t a model of flashiness, but they’re working well enough. For now, at least.