WASHINGTON — What’s the best fix after a franchise-low 63-point playoff performance?
“Laugh and smile,” Washington Wizards big man Nene said of his team’s ugly Game 3 playoff loss to the Indiana Pacers. “It was definitely the worst offensive night we’ve had so far. It looked like we tried to miss shots.”
Wizards players knew they played bad Friday night. Really bad. They shot 24-for-73 from the field and scored the fewest points the franchise has scored in a game, regular season or playoffs. Yet that’s hardly deterring their psyche.
“Now that we’re down, we definitely have to bring a sense of urgency to the game,” Wizards forward Trevor Ariza said.
“We have to refocus, we know it’s just one game,” said All-Star point guard John Wall, who’s struggled to find his shooting touch in the series and has yet to have an offensive outburst in the playoffs. In the postseason, Wall has failed to make more than half his field goal attempts in any game.
After winning the first game of the Eastern Conference series, the Wizards now trail 2-1 and enter Sunday’s Game 4 matchup trying to shake off a performance that coach Randy Wittman labeled a “clunker.”
“We’ve got to let it go,” Wittman said of Game 3. “I thought we got some really good looks and didn’t make anything. It snowballed and we lost our confidence from an offensive standpoint.”
As Wall put it, Washington “just didn’t hit shots” in Game 3. But much of the Wizards’ play can be attributed to the Pacers’ defense and ability. Indiana forced 18 turnovers that led to 21 points.
“They dictated what they wanted us to run offensively, they took us out of our comfort zone,” said veteran forward Drew Gooden. “I just think we missed a lot of shots that we usually knock down, and it’s only so much defense you can play. We played our defense. We just didn’t play our offense. We can’t try to win ballgames in the 80s or low 90s.
“We were overly confident. It was a humbling experience. … This is what the playoffs are about, it’s not going to be easy. We knew that coming in.”
And Indiana played at their ideal pace in Game 3, while taking the Wizards out of theirs to control the game’s tempo. Washington’s offense looked stagnated much of the night because Indiana’s slow pace led to more halfcourt possessions than the Wizards are used to. Washington scored the same amount of points in the restricted area of the paint (26) as they did outside the restricted area — a clear sign they’re forcing shots from the outside.
“They were slowing the ball down. It wasn’t a fast-paced game. We have to get back to that,” said Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who shot 6-for-19 from the field in Game 3.
“This was probably the ugliest game of the postseason thus far. This is our style of basketball,” said Paul George, who continues to smother Beal defensively. “That’s what we do. Whether you like it or not, are a fan of watching our games or not, defense is what we hang our hats on.”
For the first time in the series and postseason, the Pacers looked like the team that captured the East’s top seed and seemed poised for a Finals push before a late-season collapse that carried into the playoffs.
“We were the underdogs,” said Wall, who had seven turnovers in the loss. “We knew they would compete.”
The Pacers might have found their mojo, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be taking the Wizards lightly.
“I think we have a healthy respect for this basketball team,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Obviously we respect the Chicago Bulls and to see what they did to Chicago opened all of our eyes as it did to the whole nation. … We know they’re going to come out and play lights out in Game 4 and we’ve got to elevate our play and play even better.”
“We know what they’re capable of.”
And that’s more than 63 points.