Over the weekend, Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert made a little bit of noise by telling Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears that, despite his early season struggles to live up to the four-year, $58 million max-level contract he signed this offseason, he "will be the best center in the league one day."
When you remember what Hibbert did last season, when the 7-foot-2, 25-year-old big man averaged 15.5 points per 36 minutes of floor time, hit just under 50 percent of his shots, grabbed a career-high share of available rebounds and served as the low-post anchor of a Pacer team that posted the NBA's fifth-best record, you can understand why. But then you look at how his offensive game has all fallen off a cliff thus far this season — averaging just 12 points per 36 minutes, turning in career-worst shooting marks (38.2 percent from the field, 63.5 percent from the foul line), dishing assists less frequently and looking very little like the All-Star he was last year — and you have a hard time seeing it, age, height and skill-set aside.
Then you watch him get absolutely packed at the rim by a point guard nearly a full foot shorter than he is, as took place when Hibbert met Russell Westbrook during the fourth quarter of Indiana's visit to Chesapeake Energy Arena to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, and the "best center in the game" vision fades just a bit more. Behold:
After the game, Westbrook described the block — which came with just under four minutes to go and Oklahoma City up by seven — as a pivotal point in the game, according to Jeff Latzke of The Associated Press:
"Plays like that can change the whole momentum of the game," Westbrook said. "That was one of those plays."
It certainly got Westbrook going — the Oklahoma City point guard immediately went down the other end and canned a jumper, forcing an Indiana timeout, then picked off Pacers power forward David West after the stoppage before hitting another midrange J, pushing OKC's lead from seven to 11, and beyond Indy's reach, in less than a minute. Hibbert, on the other hand, wasn't really heard from again, as the Pacers tried to ride Paul George and George Hill to a comeback, but to no avail.
Westbrook finished with 21 points (on 7-for-17 shooting), seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, two blocks and just two turnovers in 34 minutes of work in OKC's 104-93 home win over the Pacers on Sunday. Kevin Durant (27 points, eight rebounds, four assists) led the Thunder, while sixth man Kevin Martin (24 points on 7-for-12 shooting) continued his stellar play off the bench to push Oklahoma City to its eighth straight win, one shy of the longest winning streak in Thunder history, a nine-game stretch between late January and late February 2010. They've still got a ways to go to match the franchise-record-best of 14 straight set by the 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics, though.
All five Indiana starters scored in double figures, led by power forward David West's 21 points (on 10-for-16 shooting) and nine rebounds, but a decided OKC advantage at the free-throw line (Indy shot 11 for 13, the Thunder shot 25 for 30) and off the bench (Martin alone outscored the Pacers reserves, 24-20) sent the Pacers to their second straight loss, dropping them to a disappointing 10-11 on the season. Hibbert finished with 10 points, six rebounds, two blocks and one assist in 26 1/2 minutes of floor time.
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