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Feeding Hibbert Early Nourishes Pacers

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 29, 2014

The Pacers are most effective when their scoring is distributed fairly evenly. Lacking a role player, a Dale Davis type who can't or won't score much, the strength of their starting lineup is in their numbers. All five of them are capable, and need to be involved.

“We're at our best when we're achieving balance,” Frank Vogel said before Game 5 of his team's playoff series with Miami on Wednesday.

So, naturally, Vogel's team promptly went out and began pounding the ball into Roy Hibbert at the start of the game, spoon-feeding the center who had nearly starved to death in the previous outing. There was no immediate payoff, but it might have made the difference in the Pacers' 93-90 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Hibbert missed easy shots on the Pacers' first two possessions, drew a foul from Chris Bosh on the third, was called for an offensive foul while setting a screen on the sixth, missed another shot on the ninth, and then finally scored on the 10th and 12th.

By then, with 4:05 left in the quarter, he had four points and five rebounds, already well ahead of Game 4, which he finished with zero points and five rebounds in 22 minutes. The Pacers finished the opening period in near-perfect symmetry, with Paul George scoring six points and the other four starters four each. It produced a 22-16 lead that was quickly dashed in the second quarter, but paid off in the long run in a couple of ways.

For one, Hibbert stayed engaged in the game. He wound up with 10 points and 13 rebounds, his second double-double of the series – and the postseason, for that matter – and remained a factor right down to Miami's final possession. He also bucked a trend. Before Wednesday, according to ESPN Stats, he had shot 53 percent from the field this postseason when he hit his first shot, and just 23 percent when he missed his first shot. The Pacers, in turn, were 7-4 when he hit and 2-3 when he missed.

“When Roy gets the ball and he's able to produce for us offensively, he's much more alert on the defensive end,” Paul George said Thursday. “He's willing to put his body on the line to save a basket, he's always in the help position, and he's very active on the boards offensively and defensively with touches on the ball. He plays both sides of the ball, like I do. It helps when you get touches and you're able to put the ball in the hole. It helps your defensive big-time.”

For another, Hibbert forced Miami's spindly center Chris Bosh to defend him around the basket, theoretically sapping energy from his legs and perhaps causing him to miss jump shots. Bosh, who had scored 25 points in Miami's Game 4 victory, finished with 20 points on Wednesday, but needed 21 shots to do it. He hit just 2-of-7 three-pointers, and missed a potential game-winning three-pointer on the Heat's final possession.

Hibbert's fingerprints were all over that one. His help on defense convinced LeBron James to kick out a pass to Bosh rather than attempt a layup that would have tied the game, and the energy he had sapped from Bosh might have been a factor in the missed shot – along with George Hill flying at Bosh as he let go of the shot.

“Just keeping him honest,” Hibbert said. “Making sure Bosh has somebody to defend. He's been on fire the past couple of games. My thing is to wear out his legs a little bit so he doesn't hit those shots at the end of the game. I didn't shoot as well as I wanted to, but he was aware that I was on the court.”

Vogel compares the Pacers' inside attack, which includes David West, to a running game in football. It's a way to pound away at the opponent's interior, time after time, and wear it down. Three yards and a cloud of hardwood. They get away from that sometimes, but plan to stay with it for as long as they can stay alive in the playoffs. It keeps Hibbert engaged on both ends, might force the Heat to replace Bosh with the less threatening Udonis Haslem, or at least drain some energy from Bosh's legs and force a missed jumper or three.

It all starts, though, with Hibbert being active and getting in position to receive the ball near the basket.

“It's funny, you hear people say Roy isn't involved offensively,” Pacers assistant coach Popeye Jones said. “But I've learned (in this offense) there's no calls. Energy finds the ball. That's what I tell Roy. When you're working and playing with energy, the guards are going to throw the ball into you.”

It's a good initial deposit for the Pacers. They can worry about the balance later.

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