Going into this season, Roy Hibbert wanted to make one thing very clear: he was the best defensive player in the league. He was clamoring about finishing so low in Defensive Player of the Year voting last year, and thus desired to leave his mark.
Early on, it was very clear that Roy was dominating the league. But as the tale goes, post-All Star break Hibbert was one of the least productive All-Stars the league has ever seen. After publicly criticizing his teammates in late March, Hibbert apologized, but still couldn’t grab a board, couldn’t score, and saw his minutes cut heavily in the first round of the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks. Many fans wanted his head, never mind a trade.
After playing well while his team eked out a Game 7 win against a pestering Hawks team, Hibbert knew he would be seeing a lot more action against the surging Wizards. Game 1, however, told the same story: a struggling Hibbert, who didn’t score a single point in over 17 minutes while only attempting two shots. It was definitely a dark time in the world of Roy, who was being best compared to a tree stump after the first eight playoff games the Pacers played.
But then came Game 2.
A revelation. A miracle. An inspiration.
Call it what you like, but Hibbert was monstrous for Indiana in a tight, must-win Game 2, scoring 28 points and grabbing 9 boards. Indy then traveled to Washington and held a young Wizards squad to just 63 points in Game 3, while Hibbert anchored the interior defense and recorded 14 points and 5 rebounds.
He continued to play well in the series, Game 5 notwithstanding, and the Pacers shook of their demons to get back to where they thought the starting point was: the Eastern Conference Finals, facing familiar foes the Miami Heat.
Did the Pacers struggle to get through round 1? Definitely. Did they struggle to get through round 2? Probably. Regardless, however, it was clear that Indiana was and still is the best team to match up against Miami, and Hibbs is a major reason why.
For Indiana, earning home-court advantage was the goal from October until now. No doubt that was part of the difference maker in Indiana’s Game 1 107-96 stomping of the Heat, but Hibbert was a force on both ends of the floor and remains a huge concern for Miami.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports wrote this piece on Hibbert and his effectiveness in Game 1. To sum it up, Hibbert knows how to post up on Birdman and shows how he isn’t afraid by attacking the rim. He is an advantage on the glass and in the paint, often sucking Miami’s defense in towards himself, allowing for a kick-and-shoot or drawing a foul going up. Wojnarowski put it well, and David West put it best.
“He’s used to it. Hibbert is the playoff’s survivor, his 19 points and 9 rebounds reminding everyone he’s the transformative force of this franchise. “We all know that we’re not going anywhere if he’s not playing well, if he’s not playing at a high level,” Indiana’s David West said.
This GIF is from Seth Partnow’s piece on Hickory-High.com, but it shows perfectly how in later game situations the Heat stepped up the pressure on Hibbert trying to force the big man to make a mistake down low. Instead, Hibbert goes up and draws a foul. Notice his positioning when he catches the ball though.
Often times, Hibbert starts way too far out from the hoop, making it difficult for him to gain proper position. When Bosh fronts him Indiana can exploit his ability to hold his own by the rim, as long as Hibbert remembers how to finish.
Defensively, his presence in the paint deterred many a Heat player from challenging him, something that changed from Game 1 to Game 2.
In the second game of the series, Hibbert posted 12 points and 13 rebounds, his first double-double since the end of March, but Indiana still fell 87-83 after a letdown of a fourth quarter. Hibbert wiped up the offensive glass totaling up 8 offensive boards, which was more than the 6 Miami had as a team. Those 8 offensive boards tied his postseason career high, as well.
This game, however, Miami was not afraid to drive in on Hibbert, often kicking the ball out after Indy’s defense stalled (a staple of the Miami playbook). Chris Andersen, despite his point tally, was surprisingly effective on the defensive glass and managed to hold off Hibbert in the later stages of the game. Roy started the game off well, but his play began to taper off in the second half.
Overall, Hibbert has shown that he does still exist as a functioning center in the league, but his consistency remains an issue. He may not be the feared shot stopper that he was in the beginning of the year, but Hibbert has still been the best defensive center in terms of protecting the rim, holding his opponents to just 41.0%.
Games 3 & 4, however, were one big ole… WELP.
Hibbert was virtually ineffective against in both games and especially in Game 4 where, without Chris Anderson, Miami was still outrebounded by Indiana yet Hibbert held scoreless on 0-4 shooting. There’s not a whole lot of analyzing that can be done on a team that is descending from the top… and quickly. Hibbert blamed Vogel, saying that Vogel’s game plan was the reason he went scoreless.
Hibbert is struggling, Vogel is struggling, the Pacers are struggling, and Miami is showing no mercy (regardless of officiating). If Indiana has any shot at this at all, the defense has to be better, Vogel has to be better, and Hibbert has to be better. If Indiana goes out this round, expect some personnel changes.