by Mark Montieth | email@example.com
May 8, 2014 | 12:30 a.m.
The real reason Roy Hibbert played better Wednesday, with a shock-the-world performance that saved the Pacers from likely elimination in their Second Round playoff series, is that he dug down, overcame the self-imposed burden of expectation, and brought it out of himself.
Well, that and the fact he established better post position near the basket.
Boring stuff like that.
Two nights after failing to contribute a point or rebound to his team's cause and amid a swirl of social media criticism, Hibbert scored 28 points, grabbed nine rebounds and didn't commit a single turnover during his 33 ½ minutes in the Pacers' 86-82 victory over Washington on Wednesday. Rather than reeling from a nearly hopeless 0-2 deficit after two homecourt losses, they are now in what's essentially a best-of-five series.
Hibbert didn't celebrate his redemption. Nor did he fire back at his growing army of critics. Actually, for a guy who's had his share of controversial postgame quotes, he was as bland as could be.
“I just haven’t been aggressive as I should’ve been in the past and you have to look within yourself to make things happen,” he said to explain the outburst that had occurred on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court.
“I felt that I put a lot of pressure on myself to get going and I don’t want to get into to excuses. I think I was making a lot of excuses throughout the second half of the season and during the playoffs. I’m excited to take it into my own hands and change it around.”
What Hibbert did was as unexpected as a May blizzard, given the way the playoffs had been going for him. He was scoreless in Games 5 and 6 in the first-round series with Atlanta, but came up with 13 points and seven rebounds in Game 7. That gave hope for a revival, but going nearly 18 minutes without a point or rebound in Game 1 against the Wizards refueled speculation and consternation over what was holding him back, and what brought him back.
The juiciest angle he could offer was a fishing trip, courtesy of Paul George, at Geist Reservoir on Tuesday.
“Yesterday after practice, he invited me out on his boat and we fished for about two hours, and just relaxed and didn’t talk about basketball,” Hibbert said. “We just talked about life and trying to catch some bass. He reached out and got my mind off things. Hopefully it’s something I can build on, and he’s a great teammate, so I really do appreciate him reaching out because he didn’t have to.”
A fishing trip? What about the release of Andrew Bynum earlier in the day? Hibbert, according to Hollywood script writers posing as social media analysts, had been bothered by the signing of the backup center on Feb. 1, and therefore was revitalized by Bynum's release earlier in the day. That, of course, ignores the fact Hibbert scored 20 points against Brooklyn the same day Bynum was signed, had other good games after his arrival, or that Bynum was hardly around often enough to be a significant presence as he tried to rehabilitate his knees.
“Nothing to it,” George said when asked if Bynum's release had helped Hibbert's restoration.
“Bynum's a good dude. Many times he chimed in and was a voice for this locker room. He was a great person here.”
If anyone had a right to be threatened by the addition of Bynum, it would have been backup center Ian Manhimi. But his play improved after Bynum was signed, and he had never dropped the faintest of hints about being bothered by it.
Asked if Bynum's release had helped Hibbert's frame of mind, Manhimi burst out laughing.
“No, no, no,” he said. “That has strictly nothing to do with it. He had his good games when Bynum was here and he had his so-so games. I don't think it has anything to do with his recent struggles.
“The few times (Bynum and him) talked, he was a very nice guy off the court. I have nothing bad to say about him. It was just unfortunate that his knee was bad.”
Oh, and there's this, too: Hibbert had begun presenting a different side of himself in Tuesday's practice and video session, the day before Bynum was released. The media criticism and social media onslaught that grew out of Monday's debacle had taken a toll, so according to teammates he withdrew within himself.
“He probably said five words (Tuesday),” Lance Stephenson said.
“His body language was a little different,” David West added. “He took as much as he could take in terms of peoples' criticism. He made it up in his mind he was going to come out and respond and have a big game.”
Hibbert wasted no time. He scored on the Pacers' first possession, hitting a 15-footer to beat the shot clock buzzer. He scored on the second, too, on a layup from West that drew a foul, and was converted to a three-point play. He dove on the floor on the fourth possession, and went on to finish the quarter with seven points. He had 17 by halftime, 24 after three periods, and finished one point shy of his playoff career high.
It was as much a sight to behold as those scoreless games had been, for an entirely different reason. And it had taken a village to bring it. Not only George's fishing invitation, but endless encouragement from teammates and West's lecture on accountability.
“David always talks to me about being the person that rescues yourself when you’re in the middle of the ocean,” Hibbert said. “There’s nobody that can throw a life raft or a rope to help you. I got to do it myself.”
In the newly-revised version of Hibbert's journey, his teammates are as much to blame as he.
“It was mainly our fault (that Hibbert went scoreless on Monday) because we weren't giving him the ball,” Stephenson said. “I told him tonight, 'Hey, when I get it, you're going to get it from me.' He delivered.”
Hibbert had complained about not having a greater role in the offense earlier in the season, but sounded like a reformed man on Wednesday. No “selfish dudes” in this game. His current stance is that it's up to him to establish position near the basket and make it possible for teammates to get him the ball where he can score. And if it doesn't happen, that's OK, too.
“When they try to get the ball in to me sometimes, it takes a lot of time out of the shot clock to get (a shot),” he said. “Coach (Frank Vogel) and myself talked at great length after the last game. I was in his office for like an hour. We chit-chatted and I told him, ‘I don’t really need plays called for me. I’ll just defend on one end and rebound, block shots, and then I’ll try to be the first big down the court before the defense settles to be able to make a move. I'll let the other guys get most of the plays called, but I’m fine just trying to work. I'm adjusting to that more as opposed to wanting a play called for myself.”
That storyline won't fit a soap opera script. But it plays well for the Pacers.
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