INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the worst feelings in sport is being on the wrong side of history. It's piercing when it's sudden; when it's long and methodical, it can be downright damaging.
Toss another of those logs on the fire for the Indiana Pacers, who approached a chance to eliminate the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night as if it was going to be standard, midweek, regular-season game. The Wizards did not, and, in addition to staying alive with a 102-79 Game 5 drubbing on the Pacers' home court, they left a serious scar.
Here it was: Wizards 62 rebounds, Pacers 23.
That is embarrassing, the worst rebounding spread in a playoff game in 29 years. It might take another 29 years to happen again. And when it does and this game is mentioned as part of the record keeping, the Pacers will shake their gray heads in disgust.
Sometimes getting outrebounded is circumstantial, a product of shooting numbers. In this game it was an indictment of the wills of the two teams: The Wizards acted like they'd been in an elimination game before (this group hadn't), and the Pacers acted like they never had before (they've been in numerous).
"It's shocking, disappointing, it's everything," said Paul George, who was appropriately livid afterward, though it was completely disproportionate to the way he played. "No way you should allow a team to outrebound you by 40 on your home floor. Regardless if you're playing a team full of 7-footers. That's how you get beat by 30. That's unacceptable, just unacceptable."
It's unacceptable for the Pacers, who were tied for second in the league in rebounding percentage during the regular season, for it to happen on any floor anywhere in the world. George had one rebound in 39 minutes. Roy Hibbert carded another no-show with two rebounds in 25 minutes. Lance Stephenson, who is one of the best rebounding guards in the league, had zero in 28 minutes. George Hill, who is having the worst season of his career, had two in 31 minutes and went 1-of-8 shooting.
"We had, like, two guys with rebounds," said David West, who was one of them, with six. "That's not who we are, we're a gang-rebounding team."
It should've been worse. The Wizards scored "only" 13 points off their 18 offensive rebounds. Had they been more efficient, they might've slapped the Pacers by 40-plus points.
Everywhere else, though, the Wizards were efficient in Game 5. Marcin Gortat, who put up weak Games 3 and 4 in Washington, played one of the finest games of his career with 31 points and 16 rebounds. He completely lit up Hibbert and West, just simply moving faster than them and with more urgency as he fired up shots and grabbed loose balls before his opponents made their first move.
Gortat was a devastating 13-of-15 shooting after going just 3-of-10 over the previous two games. He was essentially benched in Game 4, playing only 21 minutes.
"I had a lot of energy," Gortat said. "Obviously, I was well rested after Game 4."
John Wall also made a statement in his first elimination game. In Game 4, he literally looked afraid to shoot under pressure, but in this game he was a whirlwind of aggression. He scored 27 points and drilled three 3-pointers, leaving his arm in the air after each like he expected to make them. It was a completely different visage than his tentative performance over the weekend.
Oddly, the Wizards have just played with more passion on the road in the playoffs than at home. They're now 5-1 on the road, 1-3 in D.C.
Still, it was tough to see past that rebounding number. It exploded out of the box score like a wound. Seeing the Wizards get loose ball after loose ball, it almost seemed staged in an odd way.
After making progress and looking like the No. 1 seed by fighting back from being down 3-2 to the Atlanta Hawks in the last round to seize control by winning three of the first four games against the Wizards, the Pacers took another step backward.
"When you have control over a series and have a chance to end it you have to," George said. "We're a group that's been together for a while. We've been in these situations before; there's no excuse for this."