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Beware of "Big Dog"

May 19, 2012

You were thinking it. You might've even been screaming it at your TV during Game 2:

"Get the ball to Roy Hibbert!"

The 7-2 center started out like he was going to have a career game Tuesday in Miami. He scored the Pacers' first two buckets with remarkable ease. In the first quarter he scored seven points with four rebounds. The rest of the night, he attempted two shots, missed both and did not score.

Roy Hibbert shoots a hook shot over Miami's Joel Anthony

The Pacers won, so it wasn't a major issue but even so, we asked Coach Frank Vogel about that before Game 3 and he explained it pretty clearly. He's one of those guys that doesn't feel the need to condescend, to speak as though from a mountaintop pulpit, and therefore is both easy to understand and believe.

Miami's defense was basically tough to crack when it came to pounding the ball inside. They fronted Hibbert and when the Pacers tried to lob it over the top, either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade would leave their man to either steal the pass or harass Hibbert on the catch.

It would've been counterproductive to force it inside under those circumstances.

In Game 3, the Pacers found the best way to get the ball to Hibbert: Let it find him.

Rather than calling post-up after post-up in an attempt to exploit the apparent mismatch inside, they moved the ball around the floor, Hibbert made himself a moving target, working the low, mid and high posts on both sides of the lane and the result was one of the best games of his career: 19 points, 18 rebounds, five blocked shots.

"By far the best game he's played," Danny Granger said. "He was really blocking shots in the paint, rebounding everything that came off the goal and scoring in the post."

Hoping to find a big body that could bang with Hibbert inside, Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra dusted off 6-11, 285-pound Dexter Pittman for the Game 3 start. That experiment lasted 3½ minutes. Hibbert had a double-double by halftime (12 points, 10 rebounds) and was a huge presence at both ends of the floor.

"That's why he's an All-Star this year," George Hill said. "He's a big part of this team, not just scoring but defensively. His favorite saying is 'send them to Big Dog.' When we're in trouble, he's our bail-out."

In the first-round, Orlando played without Dwight Howard, and so the perception going in was that Hibbert would be able to dominate. But David West became the primary interior scorer as Vogel asked Hibbert to focus his attention on defense and rebounding. Hibbert racked up 19 blocks in the five games, a franchise postseason record, and led the team in rebounding at 10.8.

Hibbert blocks a shot during Game 3 against the Miami Heat, 2012 NBA Playoffs

Much the same perception developed when Miami lost Chris Bosh to a strained abdominal muscle midway through Game 1. Vogel didn't want to force things, felt if the ball moved and Hibbert moved the two would find each other enough to be effective offensively. The coach wanted his All-Star center to prioritize protecting the rim and cleaning the glass.

He ranks second in the league in blocks (3.5) and third in rebounds (11.8) in the postseason. Safe to say he has embraced the role.

"I go into every game thinking clog up the lane and alter shots but without (Bosh) in the game I can wander a little bit more, clog up the paint a little more, block more shots," Hibbert said. "When he's there I have to respect his jump-shooting ability and his driving ability. Until they get him back, I'm just going to keep doing the same thing. …

"I just felt like defensively that was my job. I had 19 points and I seriously can't remember all of them because I was more focused on the defense and they just seemed to come. My teammates found me. I didn't make a lot of post moves out there. They put the ball in my hands where I could score easily and I tried to reciprocate and do the same thing for them."

You'd think a guy in a contract year would be a little more interested in building his stats but that isn't Hibbert's makeup. Earlier in his career he might get down on himself if he didn't score much for a game or two and it would affect the other areas of his game.

Not anymore. He has become a rock, physically and emotionally.

"For us, we go team, team, team," he said. "That's our mantra, that's our motto. We play for each other no matter what. I like to see my teammates score. There's not a selfish person on this court when we go out there and play. Larry (Bird) got Executive of the Year because he put together a team that likes to play together, share the ball and play for each other. That's how we roll."

Big Dog doesn't do much barking, but beware his bite.

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