WASHINGTON — For the Indiana Pacers to finally put away the Washington Wizards and reach the finals in the East, it turns out they needed a starry performance from forward David West. Now the Midwestern power gets another crack at the champions from South Beach.
West scored 29 points and forward Lance Stephenson had 17 as the Pacers closed out their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Wizards with a 93-80 victory on Thursday night. Indiana won the series 4-2.
Indiana reached the conference finals for the second straight season and will face the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat. The conference regular season champions made it back despite laboring over the final weeks of the season and at times in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
They made it back despite a brutal 102-79 loss at home on Tuesday and the Wizards rallying to take the lead with over eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter in Game 6 on Thursday. West made sure a second chance to close out Washington didn’t lead to Game 7.
“My message to them was just come to me,” said West, who made half of his season and playoff career-high 26 attempts from the field. “We couldn’t lose. We couldn’t lose this game. I was just trying to keep guys confident and encouraged.”
Guard Bradley Beal’s 3-pointer gave the Wizards a 74-73 lead with 8:31 remaining after Washington had trailed by 16 earlier in the half.
The veteran Pacers pushed right back, though, with West scoring eight points during a decisive 17-2 run. Indiana held Washington to one field goal during the seven-minute stretch.
“Ultimately I wanted it to be on my shoulders,” West said. “If we lost this game, I wanted it to be on me. Ultimately we were able to pull through, be the tough team in a tough environment to play basketball.”
Indiana, which shot 51.4 percent, won all three games in Washington and is 5-1 on the road this postseason. Forward Paul George added 12 points and center Roy Hibbert and guard George Hill each had 11.
Indiana coach Frank Vogel praised his team’s toughness before singling out his leading scorer: “David West in particular led the way.”
Center Marcin Gortat scored 19 points and Beal added 16 for the Wizards.
“I guess it was just a bigger will of winning the game, and unfortunately we were not able to close it,” Gortat said.
Washington outrebounded Indiana 62-23 in Game 5 and had more boards in Game 6, winning the battle on the glass for the fifth time in the series. However, the final count was a modest 40-38, not enough of an advantage to help the Wizards offset 39.2 shooting.
Despite being the team preferring a slow tempo, the Pacers matched the Wizards with 10 fast-break points. Indiana held Washington without a fast-break point in the first half after doing the same in the second half of its 95-92 comeback win in Game 4.
The Pacers opened their largest lead at 56-40 after scoring the first four points of the third quarter. The Wizards slowly pulled closer, trailing 71-63 after the third, and then exploded with an 11-2 run opening the fourth. Beal’s pull-up 3-pointer on a fast break gave Washington its first lead since the first quarter.
West hit consecutive step-back jumpers to put Indiana ahead for good.
“We made our run, took the lead,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman, who oversaw the team’s 4-1 first-round series win over the Chicago Bulls .”We just could not maintain that momentum. Tough, but we have a bunch of guys (in the locker room) that are really disappointed.”
Guard John Wall played the entire second half for the Wizards and finished with 12 points, nine assists and five turnovers. Power forward Nene had 15 points.
Before this season, the Wizards had not reached the playoffs since 2008.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a group of guys than I am of these guys,” said Wittman, who was in the final year of his contract. “They gave me their heart and soul this year. They let me ride them; they let me love them.”
Indiana has lost to Miami in consecutive postseasons, including 4-3 in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. Now comes the rematch. The Heat closed out the Brooklyn Nets, winning the series 4-1.
“We’ve got home court, which is a good thing,” West said of the upcoming matchup. “It’s going to come down to the details, who is going to be able to impose their will on the defensive end, being able to take care of the ball.”
NOTES: Indiana shot 58.8 percent in the first half. … The Verizon Center originally had a scheduling conflict for Game 6 due to a Lady Gaga concert, which ended up being moved to May 12. … Gortat and F Trevor Ariza are the Wizards’ notable free agents entering the offseason. The franchise has still not won a playoff game beyond the first round since reaching the NBA Finals in 1979.
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