INDIANAPOLIS — Desperation seemed to suit the Washington Wizards Tuesday night.
Faced with having to defeat the Indiana Pacers or go home for the summer, the Wizards responded with a powerful 102-79 victory that sends the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals back to Washington for Game 6 Thursday night.
The Pacers still lead the series 3-2, and they would host Game 7 Sunday if the Wizards win Game 6.
But the Wizards, led by center Marcin Gortat’s 31 points and 16 rebounds, delivered a strong message at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We played desperate,” said Gortat, who tied a career high in scoring and missed his rebounding career high by two. “That’s all we can do. We have no other choice.”
“We still have an opportunity,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “If we play our way, we can beat these guys.”
They did Tuesday. Backed into a corner, the Wizards simply destroyed the Pacers on the glass. Gortat led a rebounding attack that resulted in 62 Washington boards, the most in the playoffs this season. Four Washington players had more rebounds than the leading Pacer, forward David West, who had six.
The Pacers made just 39 percent of their shots, trailed by 30 points at one point and went down to their most lopsided playoff loss since a 26-point beat-down by the New York Knicks in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Pacers missed 47 shots and had only four offensive rebounds. Center Roy Hibbert had just two rebounds and four points. The Wizards totaled 18 offensive rebounds, led by Gortat’s seven, and made 50 percent of their shots.
“Clearly, we didn’t match their desperation and physicality throughout the game,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said.
Washington guard John Wall scored 17 of his 27 points in the third quarter, when the Wizards turned a seven-point halftime lead into a 24-point advantage as the quarter ended.
Guard Bradley Beal added 18 points and eight rebounds for Washington. Forward Trevor Ariza finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Washington forward Drew Gooden came off the bench to grab nine rebounds.
West scored 17 points for Indiana, and forward Paul George added 15 but just one rebound.
Washington is attempting to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1979. The Wizards must win Thursday to extend the series, but they lost their last two home games to the Pacers last week.
“Quite honestly, we struggle at home,” Gortat said. “I have a feeling that we’ll feel the pressure at home on Thursday.”
The Wizards went to Gortat early and often. After taking just 10 shots in his previous two games and scoring just three baskets, Gortat scored the Wizards’ first two baskets in the first two minutes of the game Tuesday and had 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting in the first half. Three baskets by Gortat helped fuel a 17-3 run by Washington in the second quarter, leading to a 45-38 halftime edge.
“He played outstanding. He was energized,” Wittman said.
By halftime, Gortat’s 11 rebounds matched the entire Indiana team.
“They just played at a different level than we did all night,” West said. “It showed up on the glass. I don’t know where we were tonight.”
Wall’s third-quarter surge helped the Wizards build their lead to 24 points. Wall hit six of eight shots in the period, including three of four from beyond the 3-point arc.
“Ever since Game 4, I haven’t talked to anybody,” said Wall, who hit 4-of-11 shots in Washington’s Game 4 loss Sunday. “I knew that I haven’t played well for this whole series. If we lost, I knew that I would put it all on myself. Tonight God blessed me with the ability to get over the hump.”
NOTES: Entering Tuesday’s game, the Indiana Pacers led the NBA by allowing an average of just 89.6 points per game in the playoffs. That included an average of 79 points scored by Washington in Games 2, 3 and 4 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. “We’re OK with games being ugly; we win games ugly in this style of play,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Certainly, to achieve our goals, we’re going to have to be efficient on the offensive end.” … Guard C.J. Watson is the only Indiana bench player to score in every playoff contest. … In the first four minutes, Washington C Marcin Gortat equaled his offensive output of the previous three games. He had three baskets and a free throw. In Games 3 and 4, he scored a combined seven points on 3-for-10 shooting. … While the Wizards won all three road games in their first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls and two of three in Indianapolis during the second round, they have lost three of four home playoff games at the Verizon Center.
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