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.

Will Chris Paul play in Game 7?

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The way Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were shooting it probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of Game 6, but the Houston Rockets missed Chris Paul. They missed his steadying influence on offense, and maybe more importantly they missed his defense — Curry was directing the offense, creating space with his handles then finding people cutting off the ball and draining threes. Paul may have been able to help keep Curry in relative check.

Which all leads to this big question: Will Paul suit up and play in Game 7?

Doesn’t sound like it.

I would describe the mood of sources I spoke to on this issues as pessimistic on CP3’s chances of play.

If Paul can at all go, he will. Three years ago Paul played through a hamstring injury to lead the Clippers past the Spurs, he’ll want to do it again.

This is different. For one thing, Paul is older now, his body will not bounce back the same way. Also, there are risks in playing him — if he is at all limited with his movement the Warriors will target him with Curry and Klay Thompson, try to get CP3 moving laterally and exploiting him. If he’s not right, Mike D’Antoni needs to have him on a short leash.

But if he can go, D’Antoni will let him try.

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — eight of them in the first quarter. Houston was up 17 in the first and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. The Warriors were also forcing turnovers, 21.3 percent of Rockets possessions ended with a turnover (more than one in five trips down the court). Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.