Dipping approval rating in D.C.

True to form, Hibbert split the difference and finished with 14 points, five rebounds and three blocks. There weren't many satisfying offensive moments throughout Friday's game, but the most pivotal stretch from the Pacers came in the third quarter, when they fed the ball to Hibbert for six shot attempts and outscored the Wizards 26-12 to gradually pull away.

If Game 2 was about fixing Hibbert, then the next phase of Indiana's recovery project was focused on reestablishing its defensive identity. The Wizards missed plenty of open looks and had some uncharacteristic ballhandling blunders during stretches of the game, so the Pacers acknowledged that some of the Wizards' problems were a result of Washington's own doing.

But Vogel even admitted he was so emotionally wound from Friday's result that he couldn't remember a time he was more pleased with the figures on the postgame stat sheet. The 63 points were the fewest ever by an Indiana opponent in the playoffs, and the Wizards were also limited to 32.9 percent shooting overall and 25 percent from 3-point range. Indiana also scored 21 points off 18 Washington turnovers.

The aesthetic value of Friday's game, of course, depended on the vantage point.

"If you're a guy that loves defense, we're your team," said Pacers forward Paul George, who had three of Indiana's nine steals and also finished with 23 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 block.

"That was probably the ugliest game of the postseason thus far, but this is our style of basketball. Every now and then, this team is fortunate enough to get hot offensively, but what we do is play defense."

Wizards coach Randy Wittman couldn't move quickly enough to distance himself from Game 3.

"This was really a clunker for us -- there is no question about it," Wittman said. "It was our first one in what, eight games that we've played in the playoffs. We've got to let it go."

That was the same advice Wittman offered Wall after a game in which his 15 points and six assists were overshadowed by seven turnovers and his inability to set any sort of comfortable pace for the offense. Wittman said Wall has been too hesitant to attack the past two games and needs to get back to being aggressive. Wall came into Friday having placed much of the blame on himself for the Game 2 loss after he shot 2-of-13 from the field and committed a key turnover on one of Washington's final possessions.

"You never win a game in that situation," Wall said Friday of Washington's turnovers. "They came here and won one. We have to be focused and know it's a series now and try to take them on Sunday."

Vogel was in such good spirits again that he wished reporters good luck in meeting their writing deadlines after Friday's game. It wasn't too long ago when that same media coverage of his team's demise was overwhelming, with the scrutiny seemingly suffocating.

George wants nothing more than for the Pacers to keep taking steps to distance themselves from those days and continue to stride toward what many expected to be a repeat of last postseason's matchup with the  Miami Heat in the conference finals. But prosperity is still something the Pacers must prove they can handle.

The Pacers are well aware the numbers are now finally on their side again. Teams that win Game 3 of a series that had been tied at one advance to win the series 75 percent of the time.

"We've struggled along the way, but I honestly feel we're getting back to it -- just blocking out everything," George said. "Gradually, we're taking baby steps, building habits. That's all you can ask."

There's been a role reversal in this series, and the shifts tend to happen quickly in the playoffs.

The Pacers are gradually regaining their footing after a sluggish postseason start.

And the Wizards, who were gliding just days ago, have lost a bit of traction.

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