WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, All-Star forward Paul George and the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers won the NBA’s latest Battle of the Universe with a victory over two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
On Friday, the Washington Wizards’ gritty defensive effort sent George and company crashing back to Earth.
Guard John Wall scored 20 points and center Marcin Gortat had 17 points and 12 rebounds as the Washington Wizards picked up a rare victory over the Indiana Pacers, winning 91-78 on Friday night.
Forward Al Harrington had 12 points for the Wizards (37-35), who had lost two straight and four of five overall. Washington never trailed and opened double-digit leads in both halves, including 77-56 midway through the second half.
George scored 19 points on 6-of-22 shooting from the field for the Pacers (52-21). Indiana committed 17 turnovers and shot 35.4 percent from the floor en route losing its season-high fourth straight road game.
Combined with the Miami Heat’s win at the Detroit Pistons on Friday, the Pacers’ lead in the East was reduced to two games.
The rugged Pacers dominated the first two meetings against the Wizards, winning both at home. Washington turned the physical tables in the series finale.
“I thought they were great looks, every last one of them,” George said of his 22 shots.
Indiana’s top scorer was unhappy he did not receive enough calls from the referees along the way.
“I don’t know if they were all clean. It’s just crazy,” said George, who battled Miami’s LeBron James in Wednesday’s win and Washington forward Trevor Ariza in Friday’s setback. “We played against a team the other night where if you breathe on the guy you know he went to the line. I’m not saying I’m that caliber player, but it’s just frustrating.”
Frustrating is a good way to describe Washington’s recent history against Indiana. The Wizards had lost 11 of 12 to the Pacers dating to 2008, including two matchups this season by a combined 47 points.
“They kind of did whatever they wanted to at home,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. “Once we got them here, we did a great job of just hitting them first and we kept hitting throughout the whole game. You can definitely say we won that battle.”
After scoring in the 70s one time in their opening 69 games, the Pacers have done so in three of four games. They struggled for space inside with the 6-foot-11 Gortat protecting the rim.
“Gortat is probably the defensive player of the year,” George said. “You couldn’t get nothing.”
That was not the case of late for opponent against the Wizards, who returned home on Wednesday after a 1-3 road trip and promptly fell behind by 25 points to the Phoenix Suns before losing 99-93. That struggling version rarely showed against the East’s top team.
The Wizards led 44-37 at halftime and 57-51 before closing the third quarter on a 17-5 run. Forward Martell Webster opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to give Washington its largest lead before the crowd of 19,708.
After Indiana pulled closer at 84-74, Washington scored the next seven points, five from Wall.
Forward Lance Stephenson, ejected in Indiana’s 84-83 win over Miami, scored 13 points and tied a career high with 14 rebounds. He also missed all nine of his shots from the field in the first half and finished 3 of 13.
Harrington alone outscored Indiana 10-0 early in the second quarter as the Wizards jumped ahead 41-25. The Pacers then countered with a 12-0 spurt before Webster, who finished with 11 points, ended the first-half scoring with a 3-pointer.
Beal, who suffered a right hip pointer in Wednesday’s loss, had seven points on 2-of-13 shooting from the field in 35 minutes. Ariza added 11 points, but also missed 10 of 12 shots.
On other nights, the Wizards would not overcome such errant shooting. On this one they did.
“This is how you have to play for 48 minutes — if you want to be a good team. They did tonight,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of his squad. “We did it defensively.”
NOTES: Wizards F Trevor Ariza added 11 points, but also missed 10 of 12 shots. … The Wizards entered Friday’s game in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, 1 1/2 games behind the Brooklyn Nets and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats. … The Pacers remain on the road with Sunday afternoon’s matchup at the Cleveland Cavaliers. Washington hosts Southeast Division opponent Atlanta on Saturday. Six of the Wizards’ final 10 games are at the Verizon Center. The Pacers will play five of their final nine games on the road.
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