by Kent Sterling
Win, lose, play well, play poorly, all anyone wants to hear about is embattled Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert. Less than three months ago, Hibbert was riding high at the NBA All-Star Game.
Now, Hibbert’s feast or famine postseason is all anyone in Indianapolis wants to talk about, and both local and national media has been more than willing to quench that thirst.
In the Pacers locker room after tonight’s win, if the media throng asked 1,000 questions of players in front of their locker, all 1,000 were about the extraordinary play by their center which was an almost perfect opposite of what he delivered Monday night.
Two nights ago, Hibbert posted no points and no rebounds in 18 minutes. Tonight, 28 and nine in 33 minutes in the Pacers 86-82 win over the Washington Wizards to even the second round series at one win each.
Predictability is not exactly the calling card for either Hibbert or the Pacers. In another 48 hours, Game Three will be played in Washington DC, and God Himself would refuse to hazard a guess as to what might happen next.
When asked what changed for Hibbert to explain the sudden about face, teammate David West said that Hibbert seemed extremely focused both yesterday and today, “He didn’t say five words. He was aggressive and ready.”
This game was in doubt to the end, but with their backs against the wall, the Pacers put themselves back in the series. With a split in DC, home court advantage returns, just as was the case in Atlanta. Guessing which of those games the Pacers might win or lose (if any) is best left to fools who busy themselves reading tea leaves.
There are plenty of reasons for tonight’s win other than the Hibbert’s mind bending response to adversity the likes of which few professional athletes not named Chuck Knoblach, Steve Sax, Rick Ankiel, Mackey Sasser, or Steve Blass have experienced.
The Pacers committed only eight turnovers which led to a single Wizards point. The Pacers also outscored the Wizards in transition 10-1, and owned an 18-to-5 advantage in made foul shots. In short, a whole lot went right for the Pacers and the game was in doubt with a minute left.
One area the Pacers need to address is offensive rebounding. They were limited to four – tying a postseason franchise low.
And then there is the strange case of Marcin Gortat. Coming into this series, Gortat was thought by the uninformed to be little more than a Pero Antic clone without three-point range. His 21 points and 11 rebounds tonight tell an entirely different story. Gortat is a very skilled post scorer. He’s big, fundamentally sound, and very smart.
This may turn into a very interesting series, even if Hibbert is good for 28 and nine every game. Wizards point guard John Wall isn’t going to make only two of 13 from the field as he did tonight for the rest of the series.
Hibbert was the man tonight though. He played with determination, and good things tend to happen to players who commit to enforcing their will. He had some help in the form of emotional support from his teammates. West said, “We have his back. Everyone is this locker room supports Roy. We’ve all talked to him about how we need him.”
When Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz asked West whether he thought the criticism of Hibbert was over the top, West agreed with a roll of his eyes and said, “(Hibbert) is his own harshest critic.”
The Pacers and Hibbert found some temporary relief from the media onslaught that is laser focused on explaining the story of their ultimate failure prior to it happening.
Changing the narrative is what Hibbert did tonight, and three more wins just like it will get the job done.
We learned one more thing about this series tonight – it isn’t going to be a sweep. Whatever else might happen is anyone’s uneducated guess.
Tonight, the Pacers embraced a teammate in turmoil, and for one game Roy Hibbert was everything he hoped to be. Friday night will be yet another chapter in this incredible saga, and it could bring more of the same – or not.
Can’t wait to find out what happens next.