May 7, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) pumps fists with forward Rasual Butler (8) to get fired up before the game against the Washington Wizards in game two of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Roy Hibbert Back in the Fight With Huge Game 2 Performance

May 7, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) drives to the basket against Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (4) in game two of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Consistency is not a word that exists in Roy Hibbert’s vocabulary. Hibbert has had troubles doing anything right since, well, sometime later in the regular season. The Big Fella has slowly faded away leading into the postseason, but posting 28 points on 10-of-13 shooting, nine rebounds, and two blocks while only fouling twice has raised questions whether the 7-footer is back or not. It’s hard to tell, but it certainly is looking promising.

After going scoreless for Game 5 and 6 of the Atlanta series, Hibbert responded with a 13-point, seven-rebound, five-block Game 7 to close out the pesky Hawks in Indianapolis. It seemed Hibbert was heading in the right direction. But Game 1 of the second round against the Washington Wizards brought the same questions up about Hibbert, who had only one assist and two blocks to his name.

Veteran David West–who was beyond furious after dropping another Game 1 on their home floor–told Scott Agness of Pacers.com “He’s got to be part of the fight. He’s got to be part of this thing for us to go anywhere,” after the 102-96 loss. Hibbert was more than part of the fight in Game 2: He threw the knockout punch that allowed Indiana to nod the series up at 1.

Hibbert chose a good time to step up, as Paul George and Lance Stephenson had trouble getting it going themselves, scoring a combined 23 points on 8-of-25 shooting. Having George and Stephenson more involved would have made the game much more lopsided in Indiana’s favor, but it was a good test to rely on Hibbert to carry the load offensively. He did just that, and has hopefully gained enough confidence to stay effective. 20 points and 10 rebounds may be too much to ask for, but just staying involved somehow should do throughout the rest of the series. The biggest thing for Hibbert if he does continue to take 10+ shots is to just stay efficient.

It is unknown how Hibbert got into this historic slump that turned him from an All-Star center to the laughing stock of the NBA Playoffs, but there is one theory that came out just hours before the Pacers and Wizards tipped off Game 2. After months of rehabilitating, the Pacers decided to part ways with center Andrew Bynum, who played in just two games since signing February 1. Bynum’s knee problems that have disrupted any sort of growth in his game held him out of the first round series, and after realizing he couldn’t make a return, Indiana decided it would move on from its high risk, high reward investment that was unfortunately just a high risk with little payoff.

With a former NBA champion and All-Star coming in to deepen Indiana at the center position, Hibbert felt threatened and it may have caused a bigger impact than we would have ever expected. Steve Aschburner of NBA.com said “Bringing Bynum aboard rankled Hibbert, a source told NBA.com, when coach Frank Vogel ran plays to get Bynum involved offensively that he rarely calls for Hibbert.” Although it is hard to determine how much of an impact the signing had on Hibbert’s game, a terrific Game 2 performance that was the same day Bynum parted ways with the Pacers backs up this theory well.

Another factor that could have played a part in Hibbert’s apparent turnaround was his time fishing in his teammate and friend George’s boat the night before the game, where they just “fished for about two hours, and just relaxed and didn’t talk about basketball,” he told Scott Agness. Hibbert added “He (George) 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.” Building comradery off the court is a great way to build chemistry, something the Pacers have seemed to lack post-All-Star Break. It also shows George’s leadership and initiative to take his struggling friend out to relax on his boat, and George carried that over into Game 2 where he allowed Hibbert to lead the offense over himself.

Hibbert also had his agent David Falk and former college coach at Georgetown John Thompson III in attendance, which may have inspired him in this game. Falk reportedly talked with Hibbert 1-on-1 before the game started that may have had an impact on his performance, obviously in a good way. Thompson also had a sit-down with Roy, that may have had the biggest impact of them all.

In an interview with Comcast Sportsnet Washington to talk about the series, there was a question brought up about Hibbert. “I think the main thing is just letting him know we’re here for him. He has been struggling, he’s been beat up, he is not playing well, and I think the main thing, I wanted to sit down in my own way and remind Roy that he’s still Roy. And to make sure he remembers who he was. And I think he got the message… That’s code for what I really said to him,” Thompson replied.

Thompson also added after the game that he didn’t feel his talk turned Hibbert’s game around, and gave credit to the Pacers for getting him consistent touches early on.

When you’re struggling like Roy has been aside from this stellar showing, you just need people around you that you care about. Listening to all these critics can only cripple his confidence more. A lot of people believe that if someone believes in you, you’ll start believing in yourself. With teammates and his former college coach–who seems to mean a lot to Hibbert–sticking by him even in his darkest days, something finally had to hit him. If it was a confidence issue, there is no reason for it to still effect his game when everyone else is confident in him. He’s 7’2″ for Heaven’s sake, and he has proven to us in the past he can play like the best center in the league. Roy just needs to be Roy, and he’s just got to remember that.

We still may have unanswered questions about Hibbert’s problems in the past few months, but all that really matters right now is that he continues to play like he did Wednesday night. With Washington’s bigs, Hibbert will be relied on offensively and defensively to match his counterparts. If he can do that, Indiana just might make their way back into the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year.

Hibbert can’t fade back out, otherwise his team may be sent home earlier than hoped and expected.

 

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