After a disappointing Game 5 loss that saw his team managed just 35 second-half points on 37.5 percent shooting and fall apart in the face of a one-man gang performance by LeBron James in the third quarter, center Roy Hibbert felt like he owed the Indy faithful — or, at least, those following him on Twitter — an apology for the effort that put his Indiana Pacers one defeat away from elimination:
I'm sorry for the loss Pacer Nation. Have to force a game 7. I have to do better. We all have to do better.
— Roy Hibbert (@Hoya2aPacer) May 31, 2013
Personally, I'd focus more on the "we" than the "I," especially after Hibbert was one of the few Pacers to show any real signs of life on Thursday — he finished with 22 points on 8 for 14 shooting and made as many free throws as the rest of his teammates combined, he and Paul George combined to score Indiana's first 29 points, and multiple other Pacers (most notably the backcourt of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, D.J. Augustin and Sam Young) played like hot garbage for the lion's share of the contest. Still, it's a nice show of leadership and accountability from the 26-year-old big man, who has taken a major step toward stardom in this postseason and been an integral part of the hard-nosed, defensive-minded, inside-out identity cultivated by Indiana coach Frank Vogel.
There were plenty of tough, physical moments in Game 5, headlined by the brief altercation between Chris Andersen and Tyler Hansbrough and the technical-drawing jawing of Udonis Haslem, David West and Mario Chalmers. In his postgame presser, as recapped by ASAP Sports Transcripts, Hibbert said he enjoys the ramped-up emotions and physicality and — for the second time this postseason — chose to colloquially travel south of the biological border to describe the way he'd like his Pacers to respond in Saturday's Game 6:
I think it's great. It shows we care. Both teams care. I think it's fun, to tell you the truth, it brings out a different side of us. Unfortunately we didn't win the game. But that type of stuff puts a fire in my belly. And I hope that it's contagious. We have to play through the fouls. We have to play through everything like that. We have to force a Game 7. So we have to toughen up. We have to sack up.
The last time Hibbert called on his colleagues to increase their level of testicular fortitude, Indiana went on to notch a Game 6 win that eliminated the New York Knicks and moved the Pacers into the Eastern Conference finals. Hey, why mess with what works, right?
For the Pacers to extend the conference finals on Saturday, they'll obviously need more productive performances from Hill (who scored just one point, shot 0 for 4 from the floor, undercut his four assists with three turnovers and "flat out stunk," as he told Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star) and Stephenson (four points, 2 for 7 shooting, three turnovers, fouled out in 28 minutes), even if Heat All-Stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade continue to struggle. But they'll also need to re-establish their dominance on the glass, where they'd largely crushed Miami through the first four games, grabbing 56.4 percent of available rebounds (which would far exceed the Pacers' league-leading regular-season rebound rate) and a staggering 39.9 percent of their own misses, which completely blows away the NBA-best marks of the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies this season.
The biggest reason for that dominance, obviously, has been the 7-foot-2 Hibbert, who tallied 48 rebounds in Games 1 through 4, including 26 on the offensive glass to help stoke a 76-55 Indiana advantage in second-chance points through the first four games of the series. That advantage disappeared in Game 5 — Miami actually outscored Indiana, 10-8, on second-chance opportunities and played the Pacers just about to a stalemate (33-32 Indy) on the boards, with Hibbert himself only grabbing six caroms in the contest.
The difference, as Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star saw it, was that whenever "Hibbert got the ball down low — and it wasn’t often — there were two Heat defenders on him like Lilliputians around Gulliver."
And that was true, to an extent — Miami did send more doubles Hibbert's way than they had earlier in the series — but it wasn't like they dedicated their whole game-plan to pressuring him down low. Part of the issue was just more concerted one-on-one work, especially by Haslem and Andersen (and, to a lesser extent when they were matched up, Bosh), in contacting Hibbert early, working to push him a bit further out than he's been, and when he got inside, getting low on his hips and anchoring to box him out. Haslem, in particular, really worked hard on fronting and at times face-guarding Hibbert when Pacer shots went up, almost to the point of, like, pass-blocking him:
(The refs were looser with the whistles in this one than they were in Game 4.)
Sometimes, it was a five-man effort, with sound Miami transition and half-court defense leading to disjointed Indiana offensive actions that resulted in Hibbert finishing possessions far away from basket after rushing to set a secondary or tertiary screen for a Pacer ball-handler up top:
Sometimes, the Pacers helped out, with not-so-hot offensive execution drawing a bunch of extra bodies to the paint, cluttering up Hibbert's workspace:
And yes, sometimes it was a result of multiple Heat helpers — in this case, LeBron, Bosh and Chalmers — working to get down low after the shot goes up and crowd the big fella under the rim:
Hibbert acknowledged the additional commitment to creating traffic on the glass in his postgame comments:
To tell you the truth, they doubled from time to time when the opportunity presented itself, but what I really saw, they made a concerted effort to send two or three bodies to me when I went to the offensive glass. I couldn't get the — I couldn't create as many offensive put‑backs as I wanted to. It's a testament to them adjusting on the fly.
So, any strategic adjustments needed to handle the increased traffic on the glass and give yourself a better shot at having the kind of impact you did in the first four games of the series as opposed to another comparatively quiet six-rebound outing, Roy?
I have to toughen up and go even harder for those offensive rebounds.
Ah, yes. When in doubt, sack up.
Hat-tip to Royce Young of Eye on Basketball.