After a lackluster performance in Game 1 at home, the Indiana Pacers faced the unsavory prospect of digging themselves a 0-2 hole heading into Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup with the Washington Wizards. Roy Hibbert wasn’t having any of it.
Feted with the most scrutiny he has ever had to deal with in his entire career after an embarrassing 0 point-0 rebound performance in the series opener last Monday, the Pacers’ two-time All-Star center put together his best game of the postseason with 28 points and nine boards and more importantly, provided the energy and hustle that the Pacers had been missing from him in their 86-82 victory on Wednesday to even their series with the Wizards at 1-1.
“Sometimes I wear my heart on my sleeve and other times I just keep things in,” Hibbert told reporters after the game. “Tonight, I just felt like I just had one thing on my mind: to help this team win. Like I said, my teammates did a great job of getting me the ball in my sweet spot and believing in me. I just wanted to return the favor.”
On the court, Hibbert credited his teammates for setting him up and finding him early on, which allowed him to get into a rhythm. Off the court, the capricious and sometimes awkward center thanked Paul George for reaching out to him after practice the previous day.
“I seriously believe that the biggest person that helped me out here tonight was Paul (George). Yesterday after practice, he invited me out on his boat and we fished for about two hours and just relaxed and didn’t talk about basketball and we just talked about life and tried to catch some bass,” Hibbert shared.
Though “gone fishing” isn’t necessarily the type of basketball idiom (means that a team has been eliminated) the Pacers want to be associated with at this time, it was exactly the kind of mind-clearing outlet the big fella needed to help himself focus on the task at hand. Those of us who have followed the Pacers and Hibbert closely, know that if there’s one person that’s hardest on the Pacers’ franchise center, it’s Hibbert himself. The pressure of producing and not being able to get into the flow of things on offense had taken it’s toll on the highly-cerebral Hibbert, which is why the added encouragement and trust his teammates gave him for Game 2 proved to be the perfect elixir.
In the game’s very first play, Lance Stephenson fed Hibbert in the low block then in the ensuing offensive possession, David West dished off to him again for a 3-point play in the paint.
“I told him every time I get the ball, I’m going to give it to him in the post tonight,” Stephenson told this scribe after the game. “I told him to be ready. I felt like in the last couple of games, we haven’t been looking for him as much, so I told him every time I get it, he’s going to get it from me,” added Stephenson.
“I thought it was just his determination to get good position and for him to get the ball where he wanted and when he got the ball, he took his time and he got the shots
that he wanted. I thought he concentrated on his finishes and again, really carried us,” West said.
Hibbert’s 28 points was just one shy of eclipsing his postseason career-high of 29 he set last year against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The nine rebounds he snagged equaled his rebounding output for the previous four games combined. The number of times he hit the deck - diving for loose balls, contesting shots and battling in the paint - was the most glaring intangible stat, as it reflected his passion and desire to
“Obviously (Roy) Hibbert was a different player tonight. Give him credit for shaking off a tough performance in Game 1 and a lot of criticism and coming out and responding. He just had a big-time night and gave us a big lift,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel.
Another coach that was pleased with Hibbert’s big game was his former coach in college at Georgetown, John Thompson III, who was in attendance to lend his former ward some encouragement.
If the Pacers are to advance, Hibbert needs to be consistent as their style of play revolves around his success and anchoring their defense. And if it takes a concerted effort for his teammates to find him, then that’s just what they have to do, for this unit is built around their size and grind-it-out smash mouth style that thrives from playing ‘inside-out’ and not the other way around.