INDIANAPOLIS -- Did you expect the Indiana Pacers to do this easy?
Really, why spoil the drama from two months gone -- mostly -- wrong? It's way more intriguing to go the team dysfunction route.
If you saw Tuesday night's version of the Pacers, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse no less, you saw dysfunction personified.
“Clearly we didn't match their desperation and physicality,” coach Frank Vogel said.
Indiana went soft as few No. 1 seeds have in a NBA playoff setting. With a chance to close out Washington in Game 5 and advance to a likely showdown with Miami, it got out-rebounded 62-23, got dominated by center Marcin Gortat (more on this in a moment), got embarrassed at home and, in short, played with the kind of disinterest normally reserved for a Rob Schneider movie.
Who's Rob Schneider?
Oh, let it go. Just like the Pacers need to do about their 102-79 defeat, the second worst in team playoff history.
"We lacked toughness and energy," forward Paul George said. "We didn't have that grit. It was unacceptable."
That's being diplomatic.
“It's disappointing,” forward David West said. “It was not expected. Everybody has to be on board for us to win. Everyone has to play with the same intensity and level of urgency. They just dominated the game.
“We didn't have enough fight as a group to compete. We blew a great opportunity.”
The Pacers blew their way back to Washington Thursday night and if they still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, well, Wizards coach Randy Wittman likes his team's chances.
“Our guys aren't ready to go home,” he said. "As we talked as a group, we told them we're close to being 2-2 or 3-1 the other way. The message was, we weren't that far away. I wanted our guys to believe that. If we play our caliber, we have a chance.”
Indiana had seemingly exorcized its recent demons with a three-game winning streak to put Washington on the brink of elimination. Instead, it reverted to its late-season funk and then took it one step further.
The Pacers set a team record for fewest rebounds and most rebounds allowed. They allowed Washington to tie a team record with 44 defensive rebounds. It was the largest rebound disparity in a playoff game since 1986.
“Rebounding that was the area their desperation showed itself the most,” Vogel said. “We didn't hit them. We didn't pursue them. It was costly.”
Added George: "They had a greater will. They played desperation basketball. We played like it was going to be very easy."
That it wasn't easy started with Gortat, who for one night channeled Shaq. He had 31 points (on 13-for-15 shooting) and 16 rebounds while totally dominating back-to-irrelevant Roy Hibbert (four points, two rebounds). That was series-altering big given Gortat had totaled six points and 13 rebounds in his previous two games.
“I took it personally,” Gortat said. “I'm glad I was able to help the team win this time. I want to contribute. The last two games I was a decoy. Now was the time to perform.”
Indiana had owned the previous four third quarters in the series by a 103-61 edge. But in Tuesday's pivotal 12 minutes, the Wizards dictated, the Pacers submitted. The visitors had a 31-14 advantage, with point guard John Wall scoring 17 of his 27 points in the quarter.
“We showed where we are in all the quarters except the third quarter,” Wittman said. “They took it to heart.”
Indiana's heart boiled down to West (17 points, six rebounds) and, to a lesser extent, the previously red-hot George (15 points, one rebound).
“We didn't show up,” West said. “I don't know if we thought these guys would roll over, but they're a good team. Their guys played with a lot of pride.
“They played at a different level all night.”
The Pacers bumbled their way to an early eight-point deficit and trailed 25-19 after the first quarter, mostly because Gortat had turned nasty good (11 points, six rebounds).
Vogel's response: start the second quarter with George and four reserves. The result: a 10-1 run and a four-point Pacers lead.
Washington didn't blink, rebuilt a seven-point lead, then added three points to it before West's three-pointer made it 45-38 at halftime.
The Pacers seemed to have a chance, then put the lie to that theory. So it's on to Game 6 at Washington's Verizon Center, the last place Indiana wanted to be, although you won't hear that from Vogel, who pushed the only silver lining he knew.
“We're still up 3-2,” he said. “It's still just one loss, whether you lose by one or by 20. We have to respond.”
Rob Schneider couldn't have said it better.