The Pacers ground out a Game 2 victory over Washington under must-win pressure, just as they did in Games 6 and 7 against Atlanta in the opening playoff series.
Now comes two games in Washington, starting tonight. Winning at least won and they regain the home-court advantage they lost with the Game 1 defeat. Win two and they're in total control of the seven-game series.
“We have to bring it,” George says.
It starts with defense. Indiana earned the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed by shutting teams down, and that won't change now. The Pacers are not an offensive juggernaut even with center Roy Hibbert regaining his form. They held the Wizards to 5-for-21 three-point shooting, and if some of that was due to Washington just missing shots, well, Indiana will take it.
“We came out aggressive,” forward David West says. “We have to continue doing that.”
Indiana coach Frank Vogel has preached good starts and on Monday, the Pacers listened. They jumped ahead by eight points early, and that was decisive in their 86-82 victory.
“We can't dig holes,” West said. “We can let teams run off points and then we're fighting up hill.”
Or, as George put it:
“We have a swagger that we carry within and a confidence that we carry when we get off on the right foot.”
It's easier when Hibbert starts strong, as he did by scoring the game's first five points Monday night en route to a 28-point, nine-rebound performance. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hibbert is the fifth player in league history to go from scoring zero points in one postseason game to scoring at least 28 points in the next game.
"Nobody expected him to go off like that," Washington center Marcin Gortat says. "It's most important for me to do a better job of limiting him (tonight)."
While repeating that offensive performance is unlikely — Hibbert averaged 13 points during the regular season — Indiana will need another strong showing from him.
“When you're his size (7-2, 290 pounds) and he's got a foot in the paint,” West said, “it's a rule of ours that he has to touch the ball.”
Washington, meanwhile, looks for a two-game home sweep to put maximum pressure on Indiana.
“We're not down,” guard Bradley Beal says. “We're still confident. We have two great games at home with our crowd behind us. We hope to use that to our advantage.”
Making free throws, Gortat says, would help. They were 5-for-12 from the line on Monday night.
“We need to be better at our free throws if we want to win in the playoffs,” he says. “We have struggled from the line the whole season. We have to make sure we knock them down.
“We need to take two games at home. The pressure is on us.”