The main talking point about the Washington Wizards this playoff run has been their offensive efficiency, and sometimes lack thereof. Questions such as “can John Wall attack the rim, how can Washington get more space for their shooters and how many points did the Wizards score in Game 3 (63)” have been what the media has been attracted to.
However, as the old adage goes, “Defense wins championships and Game 6’s at the Verizon Center”.
In Game 1, especially, Washington’s defense was phenomenal. The Wizards were able to lock down on shooters and force Indiana into tough shots. Paul George may have finished with 18 points, but it was on 17 shots. Furthermore, George tends to be a player that goes on hot streaks, like in Game 4 where he went for 39 points. However, Trevor Ariza has made sure to get in his face on shots throughout the series and make him work for every basket. Stopping, or at least slowing down, Paul George will be key because once he hits shots, the ball moves better for the Pacers and they become more free-flowing.
Of course when defense is discussed, Roy Hibbert has to be brought up. Whether it was the disappearance of Andrew Bynum or the Hibbert just waking up from a three month slumber, the Pacers’ big man has played well this series. The problem with Hibbert is that he knows how to get other bigs in foul trouble. Tonight, Nene and Marcin Gortat have to make sure that they play defense with their hands up and don’t reach, or they will get taken out of the game prematurely. Hibbert also poses a problem due to his ability to pass. When the Wizards have tried to double Hibbert, he has been able to get the ball to a player behind the arc. The best course of action is for the Wizards to just play him one-on-one, make sure he doesn’t get position and then box out after each shot in the post. Though Hibbert is capable of scoring in the post, he has a tough time doing that when he’s forced to put the ball down on the floor, which is something we saw in Game 4 at Indiana.
One of the other keys for the Pacers this series has been the stellar play of George Hill. He has seemed to always make timely buckets and attack the basket when Paul George isn’t feeling it. How Wall plays defense on Hill is integral in Game 6. There have been multiple times this series when Hill has gotten past Wall, and has proceeded to attract foul calls due to Wall trying to block him from behind. Wall has the speed to make this possible, but the referees have been extremely stringent this series and needless fouls have been called. Putting the Pacers on the free-throw line is the antithesis of what the Wizards want as they would rather play at a breakneck speed and run the Pacers off the court. Hill’s passing ability off of the drive also poses a problem as it allows shooters like David West and Lance Stephenson to get open. For John Wall, the priority for tonight will be to keep Hill in front of him at all times and create a stagnant Pacers’ offense.
The problem for Washington in Game 6 will not be a lack of offensive firepower. Bradley Beal has come into his own on the offensive end, becoming more of a primary ball-handler and off-the-dribble shooter. Nene and Gortat have played well around the post and have seemed to pick up easy buckets. And, John Wall should continue his superb play from Game 5.
Washington’s defense in Game 6 will be most crucial because if they can stop the Pacers tonight, Game 7 is in the cards.