Hibbert Plays Both Ends

by Jeff Tzucker

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Game 2 Wrap: Hibbert Plays Both Ends

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 25, 2013, 4:03 AM

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

MIAMI – Wouldn't you just know it? Two nights after Pacers coach Frank Vogel had exposed himself to a nation full of doubters by leaving his center Roy Hibbert out of the lineup for two crucial Miami possessions, at the end of the Pacers' Game 1 loss, he was faced with a nearly exact scenario again.

This time he let the big man play, and whether that had an impact on the result, it at least quieted the wolves.

Miami, which got two layups from LeBron James against a Hibbert-less lineup on Wednesday, had the ball again twice more with two-point deficits Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals series. The first time came with 48.9 seconds left, and then following a Pacers' 24-second violation, again with 17.6 seconds remaining.

Hibbert was in the game for each of them. David West wound up with a steal and a deflection, and the Pacers were able to hold on with four George Hill free throws for a 97-93 victory.

Vogel had defended his strategy of keeping Hibbert on the bench in the face of much criticism after Wednesday's game, but had no hesitation in changing his mind this time.

“No doubt,” he said. “As soon as we came to the locker room the other night, I told the team, you know, we tried that way. But he's going to be in there.”

Hibbert was one-fifth of the reason the Pacers held Miami to just one field goal over the final 6:09, as the Pacers' team defense tightened up. Chris Bosh hit a three-pointer over Hibbert for an 88-84 lead at the 6:09 mark, but the only field goal the Heat got the rest of the game was a short jump shot by James with 3:32 left.

“I don't want to jinx myself, but the best thing to me defensively was Chris Bosh hitting that three,” Hibbert said. “The next two shots he took were threes and I contested those, and we were able to get the rebound. So we limited him to one shot and contain, shrink the lane and make everything over us instead of through us.

“I mean, it was a great team effort.”

The defensive stops, the offensive balance, Hill's foul shots and Paul George's dunk threatened to overwhelm Hibbert's offensive game, which included 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 10 rebounds. The Heat have no match-up for him, and the Pacers plan to exploit that detail as often as possible.

“It's no surprise,” George said. “He comes in works hard, puts his time in. There's not a lot of bigs in this league that good with their back to the basket. And he is. It's a weapon we love to have, and a weapon we're going to continue to go to. It's fun to watch.”

George Holds Court

With Hibbert and Hill sent to the mass interview area after the game, George was left to contend for himself in the locker room. He took on waves of reporters, answering questions about his third-quarter dunk and everything else that could be imagined without complaint.

He only took a brief interruption to take off his uniform, and to have the right knee that was bumped during the game examined by athletic trainer Josh Corbeil.

George recalled a long conversation he had with former Pacers president Larry Bird during last year's series with Miami, when George was an also-ran player averaging 10 points a game.

“I talked to Larry over the phone for an hour or two hours during that series,” said George, who scored 22 points on Friday. “He just told me I'm a young player, it's going to have to come around. Guys like LeBron and (Dwyane) Wade have been doing it for years. You have to respect that. You're here for a reason. We drafted you for a reason.

“All of that is starting to come together for me. These guys believe in me. That's why I took so much time this summer trying to find ways to get better. Larry went out on a limb to select me with the 10th pick. The only way I can repay him is to really bring it. I'm thankful for that man, because he got me in this moment, in this situation.”

Asked if he still talked with Bird by telephone, George said no.

“We kind of broke up,” he said, laughing. “I see him when he comes to games and is in our locker room, but we don't talk over the phone anymore.”

George maintained his sense of humor to the end. As the last reporters were leaving, he commented on the challenge ahead, as the Pacers take a 1-1 split back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for two games.

“We know we haven't done anything,” he said. “We've got to be smart about it. We're not satisfied. We want to continue playing great basketball. It's only one win and we know the series can change that quick,” he added, snapping his fingers for effect.

“Be sure to get that snap in there,” he added.

Proof of Improvement

The Pacers hit half of their field goal attempts and outrebounded Miami 39-32 on Friday, but two less obvious stats provided better evidence of their improvement from Game 1.

They allowed 40 points in the paint, which is about five points above their season average, but much better than the 60 they allowed in Game 1. And, they took just 12 three-point shots, after averaging more than 20 per game in their first two playoff rounds.

That proved their more assertive nature in Game 2. Rather than settling for jump shots, they drove the ball to the basket. Hill was the impetus for that, and he gave credit to a conversation he had with TNT analyst Kenny Smith after Game 1. Smith, a former point guard, admonished him to be more aggressive.

“This team is going to thrive on me being aggressive,” Hill said.

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