The NBA playoffs have been a nightmare for the Indiana Pacers in all but one aspect. The mere fact the Pacers are still in the NBA playoffs is the only upside, after barely getting by the 38-win Atlanta Hawks in round one and starting off terribly against the Washington Wizards in round two. Even winning the next two games over Washington didn't signal that Indiana was truly back, especially when it trailed by 17 points at halftime of Game 4 on May 11 -- but its comeback for a 95-92 victory might be a clearer sign.
For the first time in the playoffs, the Pacers are in total command of a series. Yet when the Wizards held them to 11 second-quarter points and led by 55-38 at the half, it looked like their same old postseason pattern of one step forward, two steps back. Instead of coughing up momentum again, however, Indiana woke up -- or rather Paul George did.
By the time he was finished, George had 39 points and seven three-pointers, including two that began the Pacers final push in the fourth. Yet he gave Indiana the lead for good on two free throws, which Washington couldn't match because it stopped making field goals, hitting only one in the final seven-and-a-half minutes.
Even Roy Hibbert is hitting shots again, after starting the NBA playoffs on the worst note imaginable. All the Pacers started on the worst note imaginable, at least until they fell behind by 3-2 to the Hawks, as they have gone 5-1 ever since.
After all the aggravation of the last several weeks, Indiana is where everyone expected it to be all along -- on the verge of another conference final with the Miami Heat. Of course, since the Pacers have lost three home games in these playoffs and one to the Wizards, there's still some room for improvement left.
With the Pacers' early struggles in the NBA playoffs and with the Wizards' early success, Washington looked like the better team until it got back home. Their offensive futility in Game 3 and their second half futility in Game 4 may soon haunt the Wizards all offseason -- while serving as the break the Pacers needed to finally get straight for good.
If Indiana is really back on top, winning Game 5 and finishing Washington on May 13 should be much easier.