With Hibbert’s Resurgence, Pacers Can Play Big or Small Against Washington

With Hibbert’s Resurgence, Pacers Can Play Big or Small Against Washington

by Manny Randhawa | @MannyRsports

May 3, 2014

The Hawks pushed the Pacers to the limit.

And in so doing, they forced Indiana to adjust on the fly, as Frank Vogel went to a smaller lineup in Games 5, 6, and at some points of Game 7 in order to counter Atlanta’s relentless perimeter attack.

When Roy Hibbert came alive in Saturday night’s 92-80 victory to send the Pacers into the conference semifinal round, Indiana regained its defensive anchor as well as a missing scoring threat. And now coupled with the Pacers’ newfound ability to play a smaller brand of basketball, the resulting combination of potential lineup shuffles could be just what the doctor ordered against the team that comes to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to open Round 2 on Monday.

The Washington Wizards have quick guards that can punish you from the perimeter in John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall averaged 18.8 points per game in Washington’s five-game first round win over the Bulls. Beal, Wall’s partner in what has become a dynamic backcourt duo, averaged 19.8 points against Chicago.

Small forward Trevor Ariza came through for Washington in a big way when power forward Nene was suspended for Game 4 against Chicago, hitting 6-of-10 3-point attempts en route to a 30-point performance. In the Bulls series he was a combined 13-of-28 (46 percent) from 3-point range.

In the regular season, the Wizards as a team were fifth in the league in 3-point field goal percentage, connecting at a 38 percent clip from beyond the arc.

But unlike Atlanta, Washington can also hurt you with its bigs in the paint, with Nene (6-11, 250 pounds) and Marcin Gortat (6-11, 240 pounds) down low. Nene also played well against Chicago, averaging 17.8 points on 55 percent shooting. Gortat can play the pick-and-roll game with Wall all night.

The Pacers will have to be versatile, and the Hawks did them a favor by forcing them to cope with Atlanta’s spread offense.

Chris Copeland, who saw unanticipated playing time in the Atlanta series when Indiana was forced to go to that smaller, faster lineup, said the Pacers have proven they can play both ways. That could be crucial in their quest to return to the Eastern Conference finals.

“I think it’s huge,” Copeland said. “Because it shows that we can play and win and match up against any style … the playoffs are all about adjustments, and being able to play against any team. So I think the fact that we bounced back from hardships and found ways to close out the series is big for us.”

And so was Hibbert’s resurgence Saturday. The 7-2 center scored 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked five shots, sparking confidence that when he returns to his more traditional role against the larger Washington frontcourt, he’ll be ready.

Or, as Ian Mahinmi hollered while the last few media members cleared out of the locker room after Game 7:

“Big Dog, your hoop came back tonight!”

To Mahinmi, the Big Dog’s return was a question of “when,” not “if.”

“I knew that a game like that was coming,” he said of Hibbert’s night. “He’s that type of guy. He likes challenges. He always comes through. You guys gotta give him props. It’s the right timing for him.”

The timing’s also right for the team as a whole. Because, as Lance Stephenson noted, it’s time for Hibbert to be Hibbert again now that the Hawks are on summer vacation.

“They (the Hawks) were playing the type of basketball where it was hard for him to do both things, being in the paint and playing the three,” Stephenson said of Hibbert. “We had to help him out, get past this series. Now he can be himself again.”

Now that they’ve gotten past Atlanta, the Pacers’ fortunes depend in no small part on how Hibbert fares going forward. And after what he was able to accomplish Saturday, resuscitating his game following an inexplicable dormancy (he scored more points and blocked more shots in Game 7 than in Games 3 through 6 combined), the feel to this squad is starkly different than it was just three days ago, when Indiana faced a 3-2 series deficit in Atlanta.

“We’ve just gotta adjust,” Hibbert said of the postseason going forward. “Every series is different, every game is different … Sometimes we go small and we’re a perimeter-oriented team and we’re hitting shots, and sometimes we’ve gotta grind it out down low. We’re able to go back and forth.”

And that ability to go back and forth may have turned a team that many thought was on the verge of collapse, into one that inadvertently added a dimension to its game that could make it even better if Hibbert continues to regain his form.

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