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.
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.