Hibbert Puts it in Writing
For inspiration, Roy Hibbert takes pen in hand and writes. On the toe of his shoes. Little messages of hope and inspiration, like crib notes to be referenced when he’s bent over and catching a breather.
For Tuesday’s game against Miami, the Pacers’ center wore a pair that had the words “New Beginnings” on his left shoe, and “Destroy Every1” on his right. They turned out to be appropriate for a game in which he led the Pacers back from Sunday’s Game 3 debacle with 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 12 rebounds in a 99-92 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Captain Obvious’ analysis of the Eastern Conference playoff series is that the Heat have no matchup for the 7-foot-2, 280-pound Hibbert. Miami’s tallest starter, Chris Bosh, is 6-11, but weighs just 235. Its backup center, Chris Andersen, is 6-10 and weighs 228. It’s heaviest player, Joel Anthony, is just 6-9 and weighs 245.
Thus, Hibbert has averaged 22.8 points on 54 percent shooting and 12 rebounds, both team highs, through the first four games of the series. The Heat have nobody to contend with his jump-hook, something he executes with either hand.
“That’s where our advantage is in this series,” Pacers forward David West said. “We should have gotten the ball to him more often. He’s doing a great job of staying active, staying around the basket and taking advantage.”
Hibbert’s close to this season is dramatically better than his beginning, when a wrist injury that was compounded by the pressure he imposed on himself because of the max contract he had received in the off-season caused a painfully slow start. He’s earning his money in the postseason, averaging 16.2 points and 10.2 rebounds overall, with 34 blocks.
The numbers come from a mindset that results from five seasons of hard knocks in the NBA, gradual steps toward this moment.
“I think I’m in the right place at the right time,” he said from the postgame podium on Tuesday. “Just trying to be physical. At 275, I gotta throw my body around. I’m just trying to do my part and create extra possessions and try to be tough.
“It’s a mental thing, really. Do you want to go in there and bang with LeBron, Chris Bosh and Birdman (Chris Andersen) or would you rather just be on the outskirts of the paint and say I’m just going to get back in transition?”
Hibbert made the biggest plays of Tuesday’s game on simultaneous possessions in the final stretch of the fourth quarter. He rebounded Paul George’s three-point brick for a put-back layup just ahead of the shot clock buzzer with 2:42 left to give the Pacers a 91-89 lead. On the Pacers’ next trip into their halfcourt, Lance Stephenson missed a three-pointer, West rebounded, and Hibbert caught the back rim on a 13-foot shot from the right baseline. Miami guard Mario Chalmers couldn’t control the rebound, tipping it to Hibbert, who scored the layup, drew a foul from James, and converted the three-point play for a 94-89 lead with 1:30 left.
And now the Pacers have a new beginning. Their cause seemed hopeless in the wake of Miami’s clinic on Sunday, but Tuesday’s victory reduced the series to a best-of-three set. If the Pacers are to pull of an upset of the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed, Hibbert likely will write most of the story.
“Not one guy in that locker room didn’t believe we were going to win this game tonight,” he said. “We showed fortitude and we picked each other up. We know they’re the champs. We know we’re going to be fighting an uphill battle. We’re never going to give up. We’re relentless. No matter what all the analysts or whoever says, they count us out, those guys in the locker room were ready to play and we went out and played our hearts out and I applaud all of them.”
After a game such as Tuesday’s, they’re willing to put their hands together for him as well. But for now they’re more interested in asking for more from him.
“It’s all predicated on Roy,” West said. “We have to make sure we continue to feed him and get him touches and take advantage of what he brings to the table for us.”