INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Wizards were tired of getting shoved around in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
So on Tuesday night, Marcin Gortat and his teammates pushed back hard.
Gortat delivered the best playoff game of his career, 31 points and 16 rebounds, and John Wall scored a playoff-best 27 points as Washington routed the Indiana Pacers 102-79 to cut the Eastern Conference semifinals deficit to 3-2.
“We don’t have anything to lose now,” Gortat said. “We play desperate. At the end of the day, we might lose. We have to play every minute of every game like it’s the last one of the season.”
The Wizards made a stunning turnaround after losing three straight, two on their home court in incredibly demoralizing fashion. Washington scored a franchise-low 63 points in Game 3 and then blew a 19-point, second-half lead in Game 4.
Washington refused to let it happen again this time, earning a trip home for Game 6 on Thursday.
The difference was obvious.
Wall broke free, Gortat dominated the middle and the motivated Wizards were simply overwhelming inside with a 62-23 rebounding edge.
Gortat produced more points and rebounds in 36 minutes than he had in the previous two games combined (six points and 13 rebounds). He was 13 of 15 from the field, 5 of 7 from the free-throw line, tied his career-best point total and finished with playoff career bests for points and rebounds.
“I was a decoy in Game 3 and Game 4,” the 30-year-old Polish native said. “(Tuesday) was the time for me to perform. At some point in the second half, it was just fun to be in the game.”
Wall seemed to enjoy himself, too.
The much more aggressive point guard went 11 of 20 from the field and 3 of 6 on 3s, finishing with five rebounds, five assists and five turnovers as he sliced through the Pacers’ defense.
“They didn’t stop me from being aggressive on both ends,” Wall said. “But the biggest thing was just the way we played in the third quarter. They outscored us by like 40 in the other four games, so the third quarter was big for us tonight.”
The 31-14 disparity during those 12 minutes completely changed the game, putting talk about the presumed conference finals rematch between Indiana and two-time defending NBA champ Miami temporarily on hold.
One possible explanation for what happened to the Pacers was fatigue.
Four of Indiana’s five starters played at least 39 minutes in Game 4. Coach Frank Vogel was concerned enough that he gave the Pacers a day off Monday.
David West led Indiana with 17 points and six rebounds, but Paul George struggled after playing 46 minutes in Game 4. He was 5 of 15 from the field with 15 points, one rebound, two assists and four turnovers.
But the problems went much deeper that weariness. West was only the starter to grab more than two rebounds, Washington held Indiana to 39 percent shooting and they continually beat the Pacers to loose balls.
This was not what Indiana expected.
“We didn’t show up to play. I don’t know if we just thought we were going to come in here and these guys were going to roll over or what. They just played at a different level than we did all night,” West said after Indiana’s second-worst home playoff loss in its NBA history.
“It’s a tough situation. We have to be able to handle these moments. We had no zip. We have to play. If we want this series, we have to take it.”
Washington was the team doing that Tuesday.
The Wizards used a 15-6 run to close the half, turning a 32-30 deficit into a 45-38 lead.
In the disastrous third quarter, Indiana was outrebounded 18-4 and the Wizards made them pay time after time. Washington’s 6-0 run extended the lead to 11, a 9-2 spurt pushed the margin to 60-45, and when the Wizards closed the third on a 10-3 charge, it was 76-52.
Washington led by as much as 30 in the fourth, and the Pacers didn’t even start cutting into the deficit until Vogel pulled his starters midway through the quarter.
“They’re not ready to go home,” coach Randy Wittman said. “It said 3-1, which doesn’t sound very good, but in our minds, we’re very close to it being something else. They don’t want this (season) to end.”
Notes: Washington is 5-1 on the road and 1-3 at home in this year’s playoffs. … Indiana’s worst home playoff loss came April 30, 2005 when Boston won 110-79. … The Wizards have won two of their last three in Indy despite coming into the series with 12 consecutive losses at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. … Indiana’s 23 rebounds were a franchise low in the playoffs.