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Steve Aschburner

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Much of the Pacers' success against the Heat sits on the shoulders of big man Roy Hibbert.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Pacers have better shot if Hibbert can avoid foul trouble


Posted May 22 2012 11:12AM

MIAMI -- Different coaches have different views on handling their key players' foul trouble. Some go precisely by the so-called book: Out in the first quarter with foul No. 2, out in the second with No. 3 and so on. Others freelance it, factoring in a player's history and ability to stay effective without fouling, the style of play that night (physical?) and maybe even their guy's reputation with officials and juice as a marquee guy.

One thing, though, is certain: Benching a player because he's in foul trouble brings about the exact situation the coach and the player are trying to avoid. The team loses his services. And, as in the case of the Indiana Pacers' stretches without Roy Hibbert in Game 4 of its Eastern Conference semifinal series with Miami, it often loses the game.

Hibbert went to the bench after picking up his fourth foul with 5:03 left in the third quarter. He didn't return until the 6:12 mark of the fourth. In that time, the Pacers went from one point down (64-63) to five down (86-81). The pattern in Game 1, the Pacers' other loss in the series so far, was the same: Hibbert to the bench with 8:10 left in the third, the game tied at 52-52. Then Hibbert back in at 8:46 of the fourth, Miami in front by six.

Those numbers, while enough to determine outcomes, weren't even the most compelling in addressing the impact of Hibbert's presence vs. absence. Never mind that he's a plus-28 through the four games; the Pacers' entire starting lineup is in positive territory, thanks mostly to their Game 3 romp. The Advanced Stats, as compiled by NBA.com's mighty data machine, tell the real story.

So far in the series, Miami's offensive rating is net minus-11.9 when Hibbert is on the floor vs. on the bench. Its defensive rating is plus-20.1 in the same time breakdown. The Heat are shooting 52 percent in the restricted area with Hibbert on the court compared to 65 percent against his replacements. And Miami's rebounding percentage goes from 45.3 percent when battling Hibbert on the boards to 55.4 when the 7-foot-2 center is on the side.

It didn't help that Pacers power forward David West was parked right alongside Hibbert for much of the second half in Game 4. Together, they managed just eight points and eight rebounds in their combined 28 minutes. Heat forward LeBron James, in not quite 22 minutes, had 21 points and 13 boards all by himself.

Hibbert, of course, is the real key because his length is the single biggest advantage Indiana has in the series. He has been a game-changer when out there, averaging 13.5 points, 12.3 rebounds (4.0 on the offensive glass) and 3.0 blocks. And without injuried Miami big man Chris Bosh to attend to, Hibbert has been able to roam and help inside, all but ignoring the likes of Ronny Turiaf, Joel Anthony and anyone else manning the middle for the Heat. He at least looms large when James or Dwyane Wade is sizing up a path to the rim.

Now he just has to stay on the court. That's on the big man himself, on his teammates and on Vogel.

Hibbert showed in Game 4 an ability to face up against a rushing James -- no task for the faint-hearted -- and jump straight up as a rules-enforced method of avoiding a foul. But that gets negated if he's grabbing at Wade's arm to thwart a layup or banging into Udonis Haslem for a needless offensive foul that has the same minutes-robbing effect. He knows he must stay out of foul trouble and avoid even the appearance of transgressions, lest some ref get hasty on his whistle.

"I've done it pretty much this whole postseason," Hibbert said after Game 4. 'I'm very capable of doing it. So I'm not worried about foul trouble too much."

The other Pacers players can help by not taking Hibbert's presence for granted. Yes, he's their last line of defense back there, an insurance policy when their perimeter gets broken down. But cleaning up mistakes can cause regrettable fouls, too.

Said West early Sunday evening: "We have to stay tied together. There were times tonight, I thought we weren't playing as a unit. Some of those drives down the paint, kind of relying too much on Roy to make a play at the rim got him in foul trouble. We've just got to be more solid."

As for Vogel, after seeing the James-Wade show in all its glory -- or gory, from the Pacers' perspective -- he has to know that having Hibbert around to pick up his sixth foul is better than having him still eligible with five or fewer at the final horn. Vogel acknowledged it, too, second-guessing himself before others could in the postgame presser.

That's not to say that you don't sit Hibbert down for a few minutes when your team can afford it or when he absolutely needs a breather. But these quarter-long-like stretches have been too costly. They muddle the rotations and get Hibbert out of rhythm, too -- those final 5:56 he played in the fourth quarter Sunday were his least productive of the series (two points, no rebounds).

"We got away from looking at [Hibbert] from over the top when they were fronting us," Vogel said. (His team hasn't done so well with those lob passes, either, frequently leading to turnovers). "Myself from a play-calling standpoint, David and Roy both have to work harder to get the ball in the post and their teammates have to see them better in the post if we're going to take advantage of those matchups at the big positions."

In short, the Pacers have to do better with their tall.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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