Basketball / Sports

Commentary: Roy Hibbert fishes for Pacers victory in Game 2

INDIANAPOLIS -- Did fishing save Roy Hibbert's postseason, and perhaps a lot more?

Has the guy who seemingly represented all the glitches that have plagued the Indiana Pacers the last two months finally figured it out?

Hold that thought.

Indiana's much-maligned center has found his game again. He was an all-star force Wednesday night for a team that badly needed it.

Is it permanent or aberration?

For this most up-and-down of players, and it's been mostly down the last two weeks, it's too early to say.

"Consistency hasn't been my biggest friend," Hibbert said.

Hope is among the benefits gained from the must-have 86-82 victory over Washington at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Hibbert's 28 points (on 10-for-13 shooting) and nine rebounds were the catalyst in tying the seven-game series at 1-1.

"I don't expect to put out 28 points a game," he said, "but I do expect to contribute and be part of something on both ends.

"I just want to string games together. I'll try to continue to play aggressive and control what I can control, like how fast I get down the court or how hard I play."

Hibbert was coming off Monday night's zero-point, zero-rebound effort in a six-point loss that left critics wondering if it was time to bench him, perhaps permanently.

Instead, he started and scored the game's first give points.

A tone was set.

"Roy was a different player," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "Give him credit for shaking off a tough performance and a lot of criticism and responding. He gave us a big-time lift."

This is what you expect from a two-time All-Star, but you'd never know it after Hibbert had gone scoreless in three of his last four games.

What turned it around?

Maybe it was the post-game meeting Hibbert had with teammates David West and Rasual Butler after Monday night's zero-filled performance. Maybe it was the arrival of his college coach, Georgetown's John Thompson III, who attended Wednesday's game. Perhaps, it was Tuesday's hour-long chat with Vogel.

"I told Coach I don't need plays called for me," Hibbert said. "I'll defend and rebound and block shots on one end, and then try to be the first big guy down the court before the defense settles."

Or, perhaps, it was just another soap opera twist for a team used to them.

"He made a decision he would step up," Vogel said. "We didn't call any more plays for him. That's the remarkable thing. When you play with a level of force, the ball finds you.

"I'm sure he didn't like how he played and the criticism he received. I'm sure it had some impact. He wants to help this team win more than anything. He wants us to win. We lost Game 1, and that bothered him more than anything."

Hibbert had become the biggest mystery this side of the Malaysian plane disappearance. How could a 7-2 man disappear game after game?

"I haven't been as aggressive as I should have been. I was looking to make things happen. David talked to me about being the person who rescues yourself when you're in the middle of the ocean. There's nobody to throw you a lifesaver or a rope to help you. So I had to do it myself.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself to get going. I'm not into making excuses. I'm excited we won. This is a start."

Drama follows the Pacers like a shadow on a sunny day. There are the never-ending rumors about troubles between forward Paul George and Hibbert, which George disputed with an Instagram photo of them fishing together on Tuesday. George posted that, "These rumors have got to stop! It's getting old now and all you that believe them are ignorant! #Brothers."

Yes, Hibbert said, that mattered.

"The biggest person to help me out was Paul. After practice he invited me out on his boat to fish. We did for about two hours and just relaxed. We didn't talk about basketball. We just talked about life and trying to catch some bass. I got my mind off things. I do appreciate him reaching out. He didn't have to."

Then there was Wednesday morning's news that the Pacers had cut center Andrew Bynum and his battered knees (he made $1 million for two games of work). Buzz erupted about Bynum's chemistry-destroying influence, particularly with Hibbert, even though he hadn't played in months.

Hours later, for whatever reason, Hibbert regained his all-star form.

"Roy came out and had a heck of a game we all know he's capable of having," Washington coach Randy Wittman said. "We didn't do the job that we have of not letting him catch the ball where he wants and get him off his spot. They took advantage of it."

Down the stretch Indiana played defense like its postseason depended on it, crucial given its offensive mediocrity, forcing critical turnovers and empty Washington possessions. It held the Wizards to 5-for-21 three-point shooting two days after they had gone 10-for-16. It won the rebound battle 34-32 after getting out-rebounded by 17 in the first game.

"I challenged our guys to step up," Vogel said, "and they performed."

Hibbert started it. In the game's first two minutes he totaled five points and a rebound, and helped the Pacers jump to an eight-point lead. Washington rallied for a 23-23 tie after the first quarter and a 45-43 halftime edge.

The Pacers surged to a seven-point third-quarter lead. Washington pushed ahead by three late in the fourth quarter before Indiana toughed out the win.

Can the Pacers do it again? Can Hibbert?

Sure they can. And that's no fish tale.

(c)2014 The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.)

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