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Roy Hibbert has stepped toward stardom in the 2013 NBA playoffs

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"Let's play two. Seriously, I'm ready to go." (Getty Images)

Consider, for a second, how absolutely crazy it is that Roy Hibbert is dominating the 2013 Eastern Conference finals.

The man didn’t even make the All-Star team this year. Considered by many to be amongst the NBA’s top three defenders, Hibbert garnered just six All-Defensive team votes, while finishing 10th in Defensive Player of the Year voting. The center’s shooting percentage from the floor didn’t even top 40 percent until the second week of January, and he played just 28.7 minutes per game in his fifth NBA season.

Now, let’s go over all the reasons why it makes complete and total sense that Roy Hibbert is dominating in late May.

Hibbert stands 7-2 with an incredible wingspan, with soft hands and deft footwork to boot. He has mastered the art, in the years since averaging 7.7 fouls per 36 minutes of play in his rookie year, of staying aggressive on both ends without fouling. The cerebral Hibbert is brilliant at knowing when to pounce on defenders as opposed to using his length and knowledge of angles to contest a drive or shot, and his follow-up work on missed shots has put the Heat on edge. His postseason free throw percentage (nearly 81 percent) rivals that of a scoring guard, and he’s finally been afforded the minutes his talents would suggest, in turning in just under 40 minutes per contest over his last five playoff games.

Pair that with the Miami Heat, a team that struggled to rebound and defend the interior even when Joel Anthony was starting at center for Miami. The team now features Chris Bosh in the middle; and influenced by Hibbert’s play, the Heat’s style, and Bosh’s own limitations, Chris has pulled in just 13 rebounds in four games against Indiana.

This is why Roy is king. This is why the series is tied after four games, and why the Pacers have all the confidence in the world even facing down Miami’s expected adjustments for Game 5 in Miami on Thursday night.

Both teams are aware of their respective modus operandis following an Eastern semifinal pairing last season and seven tough regular and postseason contests this year, which is why execution, as Hibbert pointed out on Thursday, will be so crucial. Things have to remain simple, for Indiana. They have to cleanly run a misdirection to get Roy the ball. If the shot bounces off the rim, go get it – because the Heat will trample you if you subscribe to recent defensive basketball orthodoxy when it comes to clearing after a shot and getting back on defense.

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Hibbert and Chris Bosh tussle in Game 4 (Getty Images)

This is why the Chicago Bulls have done so well against the Heat over the last few years. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is the former architect of a Boston Celtics defense that told each of its bigs to run back defensively instead of crashing the offensive glass, but all the best coaches adapt to their personnel. This is why the C’s (full of older players that were never great offensive rebounders) got back, and this is why the Bulls go after caroms against a Heat team that often has to rely on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to secure the toughest of defensive rebounds.

The Bulls didn’t frighten the Heat during both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 regular season because Joakim Noah was dominating in the low post and scoring 25 a night on drop-steps and righty jump hooks. No, they got there because Noah and the other Chicago bigs were keeping the ball alive, and tossing in the odd lefty runner. Hibbert, who tends to go with his left hand over his right so as to lessen the amount of mustard on his shots in the paint, brings the best of both worlds; because not only can Roy keep possessions alive with his work on the glass, but he does have the ability to score in the post if called upon. Even when the Heat front the post, as both the Pacers and Hibbert have gained confidence in this area since last May’s loss to Miami.

This is what Miami signed up for. The team famously went to a small lineup deep into the postseason last year, and they were able to keep the Celtics at bay due to James’ brilliance, and the Oklahoma City Thunder as bridesmaids due to the full return of Chris Bosh and Heat coach Scott Brooks’ refusal to adapt in working with lumbering center Kendrick Perkins over the quicker Nick Collison.

Miami, though still the favorite, is in much of the same boat right now. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is one of the brighter minds in the game and does not mind making severe in-series adjustments, but he also has a stubborn streak to him – as evidenced by his team’s inability to react to the Dallas Mavericks’ floating defense in the 2011 NBA Finals.

The Heat, at least through four games, are sticking with their schemes, and in Game 4 they weirdly went away from both the horns and low post sets that made the Pacers a blowout victim in Game 3. It’s very possible that, with the introduction to Game 4’s game tape between contests and the smarting that comes from a tough loss on the road, Spoelstra and the Heat will mix the best of both that stubbornness and what has proven to work in the past on the way toward what could be a pivotal Game 5 win.

They’ll have to go through that Indiana pivot, though. The one that has stayed out of foul trouble (and we hope this keeps up, right Danny Crawford, James Capers, and Marc Davis?) while putting up 22.8 points, 12 rebounds, and unending defensive influence on LeBron James in this series. All while exhausting himself over 39.3 minutes per night. Minutes spent dictating the course of the Indiana Pacers’ season on both ends of the floor.

Roy Hibbert is dominating the Eastern Conference finals. Makes sense to us.

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