The second round of the NBA playoffs opened as the first round did: With the road teams displaying poise and guile in seizing the home-court advantage.
The Washington Wizards went into Indianapolis and rocked the Pacers, 102-96, and the Los Angeles Clippers, seemingly coming together after the Donald Sterling racially charged drama, pounded the Thunder in Oklahoma City,
“Our goal from the beginning of training camp was just to make the playoffs, but after a while, you kind of build a little confidence and feel like you belong,” Washington point guard John Wall said after registering 13 points and nine assists for the Wizards, who have won nine of their last 10 games.
They played like they belong against Indy. Washington won a second-round playoff game for the first time since 1982 — before all but three members of the team were born — and snapped a 12-game losing streak in Indiana, dating from April 11, 2007.
“We know this is a tough building to play in. We haven’t won here in a while. Why wouldn’t this be the best time to come in here and get a win in the playoffs?” forward Trevor Ariza said after going 6 for 6 from the three-point range, matching his club record.
Meanwhile, second-year guard Bradley Beal became the first player in NBA history to have three playoff games with at least 25 points before his 21st birthday. He had 25 Monday night.
“The way I think about it, I’m 20 years old, playing in the playoffs, something I always dreamed about, so why not embrace it? Why not accept that challenge?” Beal said after also contributing seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals. “I’m just having fun on a great team. Whenever we play together and play the right way, it motivates me to be the best player I can be.”
Meanwhile, in a matchup of two of the best point guards in the NBA, Chris Paul bested OKC’s Russell Westbrook in a big way. Paul led the Clippers with 32 points, making eight three-point shots, as they destroyed the Thunder from start to finish. Paul made all six threes to open the game.
“When somebody’s got it going like that,” LA’s Blake Griffin said of Paul, “you just try to stay out of the way as much as possible, but also help keep that fire going.”
The Clippers’ collective fire burned all night. They never let OKC back in contention. Westbrook had 29 points, but also six turnovers. Kevin Durant added 25. But the Thunder’s problem was more on the defensive end.
“We have to get more physical,” Durant said. “I’m not talking about hard fouls, I’m talking about jamming the lane, fighting through screens and not letting guys run free. We just have to be more physical.”