Wizards Beat Pacers in Play-In Game; Will Face 76ers in 2021 NBA Playoffs

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIMay 21, 2021

Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook passes the ball during the first half of the team's NBA basketball Eastern Conference play-in game against the Indiana Pacers, Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass

The Washington Wizards are moving onto the Eastern Conference playoffs after crushing the visiting Indiana Pacers 142-115 on Thursday in Capitol One Arena.

The Wizards' play-in tournament win means that they'll be the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, where they'll take part in a first-round matchup against the No. 1 seed Philadelphia 76ers. The Pacers' season is over.

Washington used a 16-0 first-half run to take a 66-52 halftime lead before scoring 48 third-quarter points en route to a 114-83 edge going into the fourth. The Wizards led by as many as 38 points before settling for the 27-point victory.


Notable Performances

Wizards PG Russell Westbrook: 18 points, 15 assists, 8 rebounds

Wizards SG Bradley Beal: 25 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists

Wizards C Daniel Gafford: 15 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocks

Pacers F Domantas Sabonis: 19 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists

Pacers G Malcolm Brogdon: 24 points, 4 assists

Pacers F Doug McDermott: 13 points

Westbrook, Gafford Lead Dominant Paint Performance

Everything went right for the Wizards and wrong for the Pacers, but this fact was most evident in the paint.

The Wizards outscored the Pacers 72-40 in the key. Washington had as many first-half paint points (40) as Indiana did all night.

Westbrook played a big part in that effort. He finished a game-high plus-30 as he expertly guided the offense and helped the Wizards run the Pacers out of town.

He blew by Doug McDermott and hit a left-handed layup over Domantas Sabonis for two:

Washington Wizards @WashWizards

TOO STRONG. ๐Ÿ’ช#WizPacers | @russwest44 pic.twitter.com/rqVhB2Pg3A

He continued to make a living in the paint, executing another strong drive and finish to extend the Wizards' lead to eight:

Washington Wizards @WashWizards

๐Ÿ—ฃ BRODIE ๐Ÿ˜ค#WizPacers | @russwest44 pic.twitter.com/E4gMrd42KV

Westbrook did more than dominate the Pacers in the half-court, though, getting the Wizards moving in transition before slicing a pass to Chandler Hutchison for the finish:

Washington Wizards @WashWizards

HUTCH 1๏ธโƒฃ pic.twitter.com/0eN992ggWa

This effort was part of a 16-0 Wizards run that also included a Westbrook pass to Robin Lopez for two:

Washington Wizards @WashWizards

Captain Hook is in the building!#WizPacers | @rolopez42 pic.twitter.com/RRd8pJE2ee

By the time the first half ended, Westbrook had a near triple-double with 15 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.


15 points.<br>8 boards.<br>9 assists.<br><br>Russ doing his thing to put the @WashWizards up at the half of the #StateFarmPlayIn on TNT.. WIN TO GET IN and become the East's #8 seed in the #NBAPlayoffs! pic.twitter.com/SNbQoPD8uj

Westbrook put the Pacers' season on the brink when he got the home crowd going with this bucket:

Washington Wizards @WashWizards

LET'S GO, BRODIE!!!!#WizPacers | @russwest44 pic.twitter.com/xEHp4MWhYo

The exclamation point on the Wizards' win happened a little while later, when Westbrook found Beal for a slam dunk that extinguished the Pacers' hopes:

Washington Wizards @WashWizards

๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ’ช pic.twitter.com/DkdDC7jXt1

Westbrook wasn't the only Wizard doing work down low, with Gafford delivering a fantastic performance.

The Pacers had some trouble containing him on the defensive end, as the center went up for this Beal pass before slamming it home:

Washington Wizards @WashWizards

ALLLLLLLEY-OOP!@RealDealBeal23 x @Dan_G33 pic.twitter.com/J7ueFJCWrD

He later did the same with a Hutchison pass:

Washington Wizards @WashWizards

DG GOT ๐Ÿ†™๐Ÿ’ช#WizPacers | @Dan_G33 pic.twitter.com/PsnMgO5st0

On the other end, the Pacers couldn't do much in the paint with Gafford patrolling the post. He had five first-half blocks alone, including an eraser on a McDermott poster dunk attempt and prevented Malcolm Brogdon from getting a last-second bucket to close the half:

Washington Wizards @WashWizards

FIVE blocks in the first half by DG! ๐Ÿคฏ#WizPacers | @Dan_G33 pic.twitter.com/nKA8iL02dN

Washington Wizards @WashWizards

GET THAT SHOT OUTTA HERE pic.twitter.com/WcTgjDuKJt

His excellent defense turned into prime offensive opportunities, as J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star noted:

J. Michael @ThisIsJMichael

Gafford, the guy who I thought the Pacers would pick in the draft, is gonna break his hand. He's blocking this ish so hard off the backboard the ball is bouncing long to start fast breaks. He has 5 already. #PacersWiz

The Wizards were so dominant that Beal and Westbrook were able to rest for the entire fourth quarter as the team cruised into the postseason.


Pacers Suffer Massive Letdown To Close Season

On Tuesday, the Pacers crushed the Charlotte Hornets 144-117 in a play-in game that felt over in the second quarter.

That version of the Pacers was nowhere to be found on Thursday.

Hardwood Paroxysm @HPbasketball

Pacers were like โ€œWEโ€™RE NOT DONE YETโ€ vs. the Hornets and then IMMEDIATELY went to โ€œOK, weโ€™re done"

This was a nightmare game for Indiana.  Washington was the aggressor all night as the Pacers played on their heels. The Wizards dominated on the boards (60-47) and outscored Indiana in the paint by 32.

Washington shot 58.1 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from three-point range.

Chris Herring @Herring_NBA

Props to the Wizards and their incredible turnaround this year. It's been awesome to watch. That said, the Pacers' defense is soggy, sour-smelling buttcheeks.

The Wizards also scored 48 third-quarter points, leading by as many as 32 during the frame. Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files pointed out a few unfortunate stats after that one:

Scott Agness @ScottAgness

Wizards +17 in the 3rd, and their 48 points in the quarter are the most by a Pacers opponent this season.<br><br>Second straight trip to DC where the Pacers gave up 114+ by the 4th.

Indiana also managed just five fast-break points.

Westbrook was obviously a catalyst for Indiana's demise, but that's been the case all season:

Zach Harper @talkhoops

Russ averaged 27-18-20 this season against the Pacers in 3 games. 27-18-20. Thatโ€™s a locker combination.

Washington swept its three-game regular-season series with Indiana and scored 139.0 points per game along the way.

Thus ended an ugly 2020-21 campaign for the Pacers, who went 33-39 during the regular season and will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2015. It won't be a year Indiana fans remember with positive thoughts.

Derek Schultz @Schultz975

Easily the least enjoyable Pacers season since the Dunleavy-Murphy era. https://t.co/MJEc3x982Y

Jared Wade @Jared_Wade

The Nates Era won't be remembered fondly

Significant injuries lowered this team's ceiling, including one to 2019-20 leading scorer T.J. Warren (stress fracture in left foot) that held him to just four games.

But the team floundered in head coach Nate Bjorkgren's first year at the helm after Nate McMillan was relieved of his duties following the 2019-20 season.

Indiana now has many questions to answer following a disappointing year:

Kevin Bowen @KBowen1070

#Pacers season over:<br><br>-Time for some big decisions (management included) by Herb<br><br>-Personnel tweaks are a must. IMO, canโ€™t start two bigs. Brogdon the future PG?<br><br>-Pray the draft finds a hit. A must in this market.<br><br>-3 years without a playoff win. 6 years without a series win

For now, they'll be watching the playoffs from home.


What's Next?

The Wizards will visit the 76ers for Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET in Wells Fargo Center. TNT will broadcast the game.