During the first postseason of his career, and his first season as an All-Star, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall was expected to be a showcase performer. Players and analysts alike predicted that he would elevate his name alongside the likes of Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul and Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook.
It didn't start off that way. Wall averaged 11.5 points per game through the first four games of the Wizards' second-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, but then exploded for a 27-point performance during Game 5, as the Wizards won, 102-79.
"Just being aggressive," Wall said of his breakout game. "I just thank God for blessing me, for having the opportunity to come out of this slump. Coach Z (assistant coach Don Zierden) sent me a note before the game. Coach Witt (head coach Randy Wittman) and Al Harrington and my teammates just told me to be aggressive."
Wall and the Wizards made a statement during the third quarter, outscoring the Pacers, 31-14. The third quarter had been the most problematic for Washington during this series, with Indiana outscoring them, 103-61, through the first four games. Wall had 17 of his 27 points during the third quarter, and the Wizards entered the final period with a 24-point lead.
"I came out and [the Pacers] left me open," Wall said, "and I was confident in myself and made the shots that I missed most of the series."
Center Marcin Gortat also turned in a stellar performance, scoring 33 points, a career playoff high, on 13-of-15 shooting from the floor and adding 16 rebounds. Gortat scored a combined 31 points during the first two games of the series, but six points total during Games 3 and 4.
"We knew the series wasn't over yet," Gortat said, "and we didn't have too much room for mistakes. We had to continue to play together, play hard and play desperate. We've got to stay focused. We've got to stay hungry."
Washington will also need to take better care of the ball and continue to push the pace to keep the Pacers off-balance. Washington turned the ball over 19 times during Game 5, but outrebounded Indiana, 62-23.
The series will now shift back to Washington, D.C., for Game 6 May 15, and the Wizards will need to play as well at home as they have on the road. During the 10 playoff games Washington has played this postseason, they have had five road wins, with one win on their home court at Verizon Center.
"We can't get excited [about the win]," Gortat said. "We've got to do the same thing in D.C. It's not going to be easy, and it sounds crazy, but unfortunately, we've got to play at home, and everybody knows how we play at home."
Wall had a different take.
"We owe it to our amazing fans," Wall said when asked whether the team could push this series to a Game 7 with a home win during Game 6. "They came out and supported us throughout these playoffs, and to lose those last three games was tough for us. We're happy to have the opportunity to come back and play Game 6 [at home], and we want to get a big win there and come back [to Indiana] for Game 7."