Will the Pacers Be Able to Stop John Wall and Bradley Beal?
The Pacers and Wizards came into their second round series moving in two completely different directions. The Pacers, who were thought to be the only team in the East capable of threatening the Heat for much of this season, struggled to dispatch the lowly, eight-seeded Hawks in the first round and seem to be a team in complete disarray. Meanwhile, the Wizards impressively took out the favored Bulls in just five games, and are playing as well - if not better - than they have all season.
Although Indiana was heavily favored against Atlanta, when you take a closer look at the series (as I did here) it becomes clear that the Hawks presented some interesting matchup problems for the Pacers, which is why they played Indiana so closely. In that opening round series, the Hawks' starting backcourt of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver played a huge factor in their success.George Hill has historically had trouble keeping up with quick, aggressive point guards who love to attack the basket, and Teague fit the bill. When the Pacers were at their best, rim protector Roy Hibbert was able to help make up for Hill's defensive deficiencies with help contesting shots in the paint, but with Hibbert playing as poorly as he has, and with David West constantly worrying about the threat of Paul Millsap, the Hawks were able to exploit Hill much more easily.
During the Hawks series, we saw Coach Frank Vogel slide Lance Stephenson or Paul George over to guard Teague, which meant Hill would be forced to guard Korver, who was able to shoot over the top of the smaller guard. Unfortunately for the Hawks, their SF, DeMarre Carroll, was not the offensive threat they needed him to be in order to properly exploit those mismatches, and Atlanta fell just short of defeating the East's top seed.
When you look at how the Wizards roster is constructed, they present similar matchup problems for Indiana as Atlanta did, and it showed in the opening game of this series. In Game 1, John Wall continuously attacked the paint which, despite Wall not looking to score that often, put a ton of pressure on the Pacers' defense. That opened the floor for Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza to knock down 9 of 11 three-point shots, including 6 of 6 from Ariza.
Just like in the Hawks series, Hill struggled to stay with Washington's quicker, more athletic PG, and Hibbert looked lost in the 18 minutes he played. While the Pacers were able to eventually knock off the Hawks, the difference between Washington and Atlanta is that all five players on the Wizards are threats on the offensive end. All five were tremendous in all facets of the game in Game 1, and truly dominated the Pacers' starting unit. All five Washington starters scored in double digits and added a plus/minus of at least +5.
As good as the Wizards' entire starting unit was, it all starts with the backcourt. Although he only scored 13 points in Game 1, Wall was spectacular, posting a monstrous +19 plus/minus and adding nine assists with only one turnover. On the other hand, Beal made up for what Wall lacked in scoring. The former Florida Gator dropped 25 points while taking only 18 shots. Additionally, the Wizards' SG contributed in all facets of the game, adding 7 boards, 7 assists and 5 steals while holding Lance Stephenson to only 4 of 13 shooting.
The Pacers are now faced with the difficult task of determining the most effective matchups to slow down Washington's young, exciting backcourt. If they slide Stephenson and George onto Wall and Beal respectively, Hill will have to try to guard Ariza. Stephenson is definitely a defensive upgrade over Hill and George should have the right combination of size and speed to slow down Beal, but the problem is while Hill is big for a PG, Ariza is still several inches taller and will be able to shoot over the top of him. Considering Ariza's hot shooting from Game 1, it's hard to imagine Coach Vogel putting the undersized Hill on him for the majority of this game.
Although Washington's starting backcourt has looked spectacular through the Wizards' first six playoff games of these playoffs, it's important to note that these are both Wall and Beal's first six playoff games of their career and the Pacers are coming off of a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Can these young guards continue to play at this torrent pace, or will their inexperience eventually catch up to them? I guess we will all have to watch to find out.