No one wants to run into the Indiana Pacers in a back alley, that is for sure.
The Pacers took care of business Thursday night, beating the Washington Wizards 93-80 and finishing the series in six games. The Pacers jumped out to a huge lead early, and despite the comeback by the Wizards, the team was able to hang on and grind out the important victory.
David West carried the Pacers for the majority of the night, going for 29 points on 13-of-26 shooting from the field. West willed his team to victory throughout the night, making tough shot after tough shot and fighting for loose balls and rebounds. He made sure the effort he exhibited was going to be the example for the rest of the Pacers to follow.
Once West got going, Pacers guard Lance Stephenson joined in on the fun, chipping in 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field to go along with eight assists and five rebounds. Stephenson was a playmaker for Indiana during the game, setting up teammates for good looks both spotting up and cutting towards the basket. Defensively, Stephenson was key in making Washington guards John Wall and Bradley Beal force inefficient and tough shots from the field.
Both West and Stephenson embody what the Pacers have built their foundation on, and that is toughness. Throughout the regular season, Indiana did not win games with flashy offense and lights-out shooting every night, but with defensive intensity. Indiana got back to their identity in the series against the Wizards, and the team is only going to continue to reap the benefits going forward. Yes, Paul George and Roy Hibbert are going to have to be bigger factors than they have been at times during the series, but if West and Stephenson can continue to be driving forces on both ends of the floor, then maybe the Pacers can continue to maintain the same kind of beat-down mentality the team has built its identity on.
Going forward, the Pacers will have to square off against the Miami Heat if they expect to get to the final round in the playoffs. The Heat will be no joke, as LeBron James is still the best player in the world and the team is still comprised of many veteran shooters including Shane Battier and Ray Allen.
However, Miami does not have the same kind of presence and toughness down low as Indiana does, and that could turn into a huge advantage as it has in the past. West and Hibbert have a chance to be extremely effective against the Miami front court, and that edge could give Stephenson and George more confidence to find offense inside the lane as opposed to settling for more outside jump shots.
All in all, the Pacers will have to be able to put enough points on the board to win the game.
You know what they say though: offense wins games, but defense wins championships.