Roy Hibbert finally asserts himself in Pacers’ Game 2 win over Wizards

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On the game’s first possession, Roy Hibbert caught the ball outside the paint as the shot clock wound down. With no other option, he let a shot fly.

Swish.

The Indiana Pacers desperately needed their All-Star center to find himself before it was too late, and he did.

Hibbert scored 28 points – a season high and one shy of his career playoff high – to lead the Pacers to an 86-82 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday. Indiana tied the second-round series, 1-1, with Game 3 coming in Washington on Friday.

After weeks of everyone questioning why Hibbert was letting down the Pacers, he carried them to victory. Indiana outscored Washington by 16 in his 33 minutes and got outscored by 12 in the other 15.

Thanks to Hibbert – who shot 10-for-13 and had nine rebounds and two blocks – not only did the Pacers at least temporarily right their season, their starters will avoid the type of criticism that had been coming Hibbert’s way.

  • Instead of discussing George Hill blowing an open layup, we’ll mention his dependable 14 points, second only to Hibbert among Pacers.
  • Instead of discussing Lance Stephenson shooting 3-for-12, we’ll mention his big shots – two 3-pointers within a minute in third quarter as the Pacers re-asserted their lead and a jumper with 21 seconds left that proved to be the game-winner.
  • Instead of discussing Paul George drifting too often, we’ll mention his big dunk in the final three minuets.
  • Instead of discussing David West fading to 3-of-8 shooting, we’ll mention him making both free throws with 10 seconds left to ice the game.

Hibbert changed the narrative.

What changed for him?

In Game 1, he had no points or rebounds. That followed overall dismal play against the Hawks, which followed a disturbing second half to the regular season.

Maybe the Pacers eradicating themselves of Bynum helped Hibbert, but he credited an off-day fishing trip with George.

“We just sat there, and we fished for a long time, and we didn’t even talk about basketball,” Hibbert said. “So, I think this one is really a tribute to Paul’s love and care for me as a friend and teammate.”

As this narrow win highlighted, though, the Pacers’ troubles run much deeper than Hibbert.

An on-track Hibbert got Indiana a narrow win in Game 2. If his teammates continue to play unevenly, that might not be in enough in Washington for Games 3 and 4

The Wizards hung around Wednesday with willing ball movement and good-enough mid-range shooting. Marcin Gortat (21 points and 11 rebounds) led the way, and Bradley Beal (17 points, seven assists and five rebounds) hit a big game-extending 3-pointer with 11.4 seconds left.

But John Wall (six points on 2-for-13 shooting with eight assists) played tight late, and Trevor Ariza (2-for-8) went cold. Had either played better, maybe Washington would be headed home with its second 2-0 series lead.

Instead, the Wizards must address losing on the road for the first time this postseason. That’s not their only new problem, and the other is a big one – 7-foot-2, 290-pound big.

For at least one night, Hibbert wasn’t Indiana’s problem, but plenty of issues remain for the Pacers. The Wizards, too.

There’s plenty to clean up before Game 3.

But thanks to Hibbert, a broom definitely won’t be involved.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard likes tweets critical of Paul George trade

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Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was widely panned – including by me – for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oops.

Oladipo and Sabonis are killing it while George has underwhelmed.

Upon George’s return to Indiana, Pritchard took the opportunity to gloat. The Pacers general manager recently liked these tweets (hat tip: Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation):

This is petty – and I love it. Pritchard earned the victory lap.

Report: Rival executives still expect Paul George to leave Thunder for Lakers

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Paul George has been pretty open about his plans.

He told plenty of people – including the Pacers – he planned to leave for the Lakers in the summer of 2018. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George spoke of the lure of playing for his hometown team.

Of course, George also left the door open to re-signing with Oklahoma City. He proclaimed he’d be dumb to leave if the Thunder reached the conference finals or upset the Warriors.

So far, Oklahoma City (12-14) doesn’t even look like a playoff lock, let alone a team capable of knocking off Golden State or reaching the conference finals. So, cue the inevitable speculation.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Rival execs still expect Paul to head for the Lakers in free agency

Do these executives have inside information into George’s thinking, or are they just speculating based on already-available information? Some executives are incentivized to drum up the Lakers threat, because they want to trade for George themselves now. If these executives insist George will leave for Los Angeles regardless, they might pry him from Oklahoma City for less.

There’s also a theory George is hyping his desire to sign with the Lakers so a team would have to trade less for him. That got him to the Thunder for what looked like a meager return (but hasn’t been). It might get him to a more favorable situation before the trade deadline without hampering his next team long-term. Of course, this theory isn’t mutually exclusive with George actually signing in Los Angeles. It could just get him better options to choose from this summer.

Surely, the Thunder are trying to parse all this noise. If their season doesn’t turn around, they should explore flipping George rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer. But they should also be wary that he’ll bolt for Los Angeles at first opportunity just because rival executives predict it.