The Indiana Pacers jumped all over the Washington Wizards in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead, and many are wondering whether or not they have regained their “gold swagger” from earlier in the season. There is no doubt that the Pacers looked better Friday night than they have in about three months, and the passion and teamwork was back. Could the Pacers have regained the swagger that made them one of the best teams in the NBA?
Indiana hung their hat on the defensive side of the basketball in the early parts of the season, but have been a very mediocre defensive team since their struggles began. They got back to their defensive ways last night, holding the Wizards to a franchise-low 63 points. The Pacers used their great defensive effort to outscore the Wizards 51-30 in the second half, and ended up winning by a final score of 85-63.
Roy Hibbert had another productive game, scoring 14 points while grabbing five rebounds and recycling three shots. The Pacers were a much better team when Hibbert was engaged and playing the strong defense that he has played over the last two games. Paul George played a much better game as well for Indiana, scoring 23 points and grabbing eight rebounds while shooting 6-of-15 from the field and 9-of-10 at the free-throw line. David West, Lance Stephenson, and George Hill all had very solid games as well, and Hill continued to play excellent defense on John Wall.
There is no doubt that the Pacers have the potential to turn the switch back on and take care of this series quickly. They seem to have figured out how to defend the Wall and Bradley Beal combination, but that doesn’t mean that they have defeated Washington. The Wizards are a very young team with a lot of fight left in them, and head coach Randy Wittman isn’t giving up yet either. We will learn a lot about the Wizards when Game 4 gets under way.
One the main issues that has been showing up in a major way throughout the Pacers’ slump has been the poor play of the bench. Larry Bird made moves this past offseason and at the trading deadline to acquire players that should have improved the bench from last year, but they have been an inconsistent unit all season. Luis Scola, Evan Turner, C.J. Watson, and Ian Mahinmi are the four players that will need to step up for the Pacers consistently to help give the starters a bit of a break to rest.
While the win last night was certainly a positive sign for the Pacers, should we go so far as to say that their “gold swagger” is back? Quite frankly, the Pacers were playing with more passion and energy than has been seen from them in quite some time. It was very obvious that the team truly wanted to win Game 3, and they proved that they were the much more talented team.
Indiana has more work to do before we can officially say that the swagger is back in Indianapolis. They have a very tough Game 4 ahead of them on Sunday night, and they need to prove that they can close out a team like the Wizards before we begin wondering if they can match up with the Heat. This series is far from over, but the Pacers do appear to have a spark back with the emergence of Hibbert.
Evan Massey is a Staff Writer for HoopsHabit.com. Follow Evan on Twitter at @Massey_Evan.