INDIANAPOLIS – Credit one of the warmer Indiana Tuesdays in months, the kindness of a teammate and the lure of the man-made seas. Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George invited beleaguered teammate Roy Hibbert to a lake by George’s house on Tuesday to cast a few fishing lines, taking Hibbert’s mind off of his embarrassing 2014 postseason while mostly concerning themselves with catching a delicious bass.
Once Wednesday’s Game 2 came around, with the Pacers looking to tie the Washington Wizards in their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup, Hibbert’s teammates mostly concerned themselves with allowing their All-Star to catching a pinpoint entry pass. These chances allowed him both the confidence and room to work his way toward a season-high 28 points in Indiana’s 86-82 Game 2 win, tying the series. Storylines don’t come much easier than this, as Hibbert scored the game’s first five points and continued to drop in an ugly but effective array of looks from both low blocks, more than doubling his previous 2014 playoff high in points along the way.
“We didn’t call any more plays for Roy tonight,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel explained after the win. “He made a decision clearly that he was going to step up.”
Hibbert agreed with his coach. “I haven’t been as aggressive as I should have been,” the All-Star center said in the wake of avenging his zero-point, zero-rebound performance from Game 1. Not only did Hibbert credit the mid-series mini-fishing trip that he, George, and George Hill enjoyed on Tuesday …
… but he also made a point to praise workhorse teammate David West, who, according to Hibbert, pushed the center into “being the person that rescues yourself.”
Hibbert had help in that rescue, as the Pacers continually showed patience with their big man offensively, which led to both steady makes and free-throw chances on the offensive end and improved and active play on defense. The center wasn’t alone in this -- both George and George Hill showed stellar timing when they decided to either help or close out on their men defensively -- but Hibbert reminded of his Defensive Player of the Year-worthy run through the season’s first half by chasing down dribblers without fouling, rebounding (nine caroms) and blocking (two rejections) well, and running the floor on both ends of the court.
As a result of the increased attention on Hibbert, both Lance Stephenson (who missed his first six shots, often having to bail Indiana out late in the shot clock) and George (who didn’t hit double-figure scoring until the game’s fourth quarter) saw their offensive contributions fall by the relative wayside. It hardly mattered overall, because though this was a close game throughout, Hibbert’s ability to puncture the formidable Washington defense and Indiana’s overall sound defensive game plan kept the upstart Wizards at bay.
Washington players and coaches were hardly shook by that result following the game, likely because of the confidence gathered during the team’s sound thrashing of the Chicago Bulls in the first round, and the team’s win and near-win in the first two games of the series. And also probably because Hibbert didn’t exactly look like a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar up there as he piled in hook after lay-in after bounce-in.
Wizards coach Randy Wittman praised Hibbert’s “heck of a game,” but refused to call out his young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal following the contest for quick perimeter shots down the stretch.
“I thought we missed some really good looks,” Wittman explained. “That’s going to happen. You’re not going to make shots every game.” The Washington coach went on to praise Indiana’s ability to close out on the perimeter, which on the Pacers’ end was likely a result of better identifying its opponents. Indiana had just a day “off” between the first and second round, and they may have taken the Wizards lightly in Game 1 – unaware of the white-hot shooting Trevor Ariza, Bradley Beal and John Wall contributed as they downed the favored Chicago Bulls in five games earlier in the playoffs.
Beal managed another solid game, contributing 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds, but Ariza and Wall combined to miss 17 of 21 shots, mostly because Hill, Stephenson and George especially made a point to limit their defensive roaming. Washington once again did well to crash the offensive boards, but they managed just two buckets off those second chances, and the team had no luck in transition despite the Pacers missing 40 shots on the evening.
This was all about Hibbert, though, as these things usually go. The two early buckets, the borderline Bronx cheer for his first rebound of the series in the first quarter, the ovations as he entered and left the court (to be replaced by Ian Mahinmi, who rebounded from his own poor Game 1 with a needed six points and two boards in 14 minutes), and the continued looks in the low post were a screenwriter’s dream.
Presuming, of course, they make movies about teams trying to a tie second-round playoff series.
The context doesn’t matter. With Indiana’s season on the brink, in the too-soon first week of May, Hibbert responded with a 2013-typical defensive game that was paired with his best offensive game of the season. It could all go pear shaped once the teams head to Washington, and Hibbert is already anticipating the Wizards’ counter moves, but Roy knows where his bread is buttered:
“I don’t need to score,” he reminded, “to come out of the game playing well.”
He also knows where his protein is located:
“We just talked about life,” he said in reference to fishing with the Pacers’ two Georges, “and tried to catch some bass.”
One has to wonder if a team-wise trip to George’s mystical lake should be in the offing prior to Game 3. Paul’s gonna need a bigger boat.
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