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.
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.
“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.