The Indiana Pacers, who reportedly have faced locker room turmoil, are back in the Eastern Conference Finals following a Game Six victory over the Washington Wizards on Thursday night at the Verizon Center, 93-80.
After an impressive performance in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers were considered a top contender this season. But struggles against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, and a poor 4-6 record to close out the season had many experts questioning whether the Pacers could even reach the conference finals, let alone test the defending champion Miami Heat as they did in seven games last year.
However, Indiana appeared to put their problems aside and maintained their focus after their Game One loss to Washington with three straight wins. In Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Pacers were able to go on a 17-2 run in the fourth quarter to hold off the Wizards.
The star backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall struggled from the field for Washington. The duo combined to shoot just 12-35, and only took two free-throw attempts. Meanwhile, the Washington bench contributed just 12 points.
The Wizards received strong efforts from Nene Hilario and Marcin Gortat, who combined for 34 points to keep the game close. Washington outrebounded Indiana, 40-38. The Wizards also converted 16-of-20 free throws.
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But the shots simply didn't drop for Washington, particularly in the fourth quarter. Beal converted a three-point shot with 8:30 remaining to put the Wizards ahead, 74-73. From there, the Wizards scored just two points until Hilario's layup with 1:15 remaining, at which point the game was basically decided with Indiana leading by double digits. The Pacers didn't appear to be playing particularly intense defense, as the Wizards failed to score off open shots.
Indiana shot 51.4 percent from the field, and received a strong effort from David West and Lance Stephenson. West led all scorers with 29 points, while Stephenson made eight of his 13 field goal attempts, and also had eight assists.
"I just didn't want us to lose this game," said David West, immediately following the game.
"This group has stayed strong," he added, addressing some of the internal turmoil the Pacers have endured. The Pacers will meet their old nemesis, the Heat, on Sunday in Miami.
"It's only going to get tougher. We've been talking about this series all year," West added.