Roy Hibbert goes up strong against the Bucks
Mark Montieth headshot

Hibbert Works His Way Back

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

January 6, 2013 12:50 AM

Editor's Note: Have a Pacers-related question for Mark? Want to be featured in his mailbag column? Send your questions to Mark at askmontieth@gmail.com.

The most meaningful statement heard in the Pacers' victorious locker room Saturday came courtesy of Roy Hibbert, who had just played his best game of the season with 20 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots against Milwaukee.

Nothing bold or memorable about it.

Only four words.

A cliché, really.

But meaningful.

“It's just one game,” he said.

Hibbert didn't show any more emotion than he had after his frustrating performances this season. He didn't chide the media with I-told-you-so declarations. He didn't announce a belated arrival to his pre-season expectations.

No, he lifted weights after the game, as has become his routine, then took his seat in the corner of the locker room and spoke matter-of-factly with the reporters huddled around his stall for one of the few times this season.

“I want to strive for consistency,” he said. “I want to keep going the same way and keep working hard. I want to string a couple of good games together and keep seeing this team win.”

Hibbert spoke those words in a quiet monotone, but they no doubt would have sounded like an uplifting melody to coach Frank Vogel and the rest of the Pacers, who clearly need improved play from their 7-2 center to contend with the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. A team such as Miami (22-9), the conference leader and defending NBA champion that deleted the Pacers in the second round of the playoffs last season and comes to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday. Or a team such as New York (23-10), which arrives on Thursday.

Hibbert's best game of the season came seven days after his worst game. He had gone scoreless in 21 minutes in Atlanta, taking just two shots, and had grabbed just one rebound. Vogel kept him on the bench for the fourth quarter, going with a small lineup that failed to pull out the victory.

He responded to that embarrassment much like Paul George had reacted to his scoreless game at Golden State on Dec. 1. He got in the gym. The next day, Sunday, a day off, Hibbert received a hang-in-there text from Vogel. Hibbert responded by asking if any coaches would be at the Fieldhouse that day so he could go in and put up shots. Vogel volunteered for the job, bribing his two daughters into joining him by allowing them to roller blade around the practice court while he and Hibbert went to work.

They put in an intense hour, Hibbert and the boss, working on the kind of shots Hibbert had been taking – and usually missing – in games.

“Before Frank got the (head coaching) job I used to come in and work with him all the time,” Hibbert said. “It was nice. I appreciated it.”

Hibbert didn't get an immediate benefit from the session. He hit just 3-of-11 shots the following night against Memphis. He hit 6-of-11 on Wednesday against Washington, and 3-of-6 on Friday in Boston. So while Saturday's game was encouraging, it wasn't enough to qualify as a trend.

Still, it was a step forward.

Hibbert's 20 points matched his season high, and made him the team's leading scorer for just the second time all season. His 15 rebounds were a season-high. His 11 offensive rebounds surpassed his previous career high by four and were one short of the NBA franchise record established on five different occasions. Roy Hibbert goes up for a shot against the Bucks on January 5, 2013

He took and made the game's first shot, a six-foot hook in the lane, and went on to hit half of his 16 field goal attempts.

“I told David (West) in shoot-around I wanted to make sure I scored the first bucket and get us going,” he said. “I wanted to set a tone.”

Said West: “He did a good job of doing his work early. He got position early. He took advantage of his size.”

Hibbert acknowledged that he lost the confidence of his teammates early in the season, when he started slowly. Once West and Paul George established themselves offensively, his role changed. A sprained wrist on his shooting hand further impacted his scoring.

But mostly all those missed shots around the basket, the hooks and off-balance flips, the ones he calls “chippies,” messed with his psyche.

“It kind of demoralized me,” he said.

He rehabilitated himself Saturday by controlling offensive rebounds and tipping or laying the ball back into the basket. His second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth field goals came on tips and rebounds. His seventh was a dunk on Gerald Green's assist and his eighth a layup from George.

Those aren't chippies, those are gimmes. Yes, he missed a few tips in heavy traffic, but he played the kind of game that virtually guarantees success. One that requires aggression, which comes from getting in the gym and working hard to restore confidence while his teammates are taking the day off and the coach's daughters are rollerblading.

“Earlier in the season I'd get an offensive rebound, and I'd go up real soft,” Hibbert said. “I just took my time and either passed it out or tried to go up and score tough.”

Hibbert made it look easy on Saturday. Just as importantly, he took it in stride. It's too soon to call it a turning point for his season, but it was too encouraging to ignore the possibility of one. We'll know more after Miami and New York pay their visits.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

Have a question for Mark about Pacers past, present, or future? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com for a chance to be featured in a mailbag article.