Less than 24 hours after taking a 2-1 series over the Washington Wizards, the Indiana Pacers returned to work. Saturday's practice took place at the Smith Center on the George Washington campus, just an outlet pass away from where Roy Hibbert spent four years with Georgetown's basketball program. Considering all the attention given to the Hibbert this series and in recent weeks, it seems impossible that anyone, let alone a teammate would not know where he played in college, not to mention who coached him there.
Yet as the team entered the court area, veteran forward Luis Scola asked Hibbert, "Did you go to school around here?"
Hibbert efficiently responded to the Argentine native, "Um, yeah."
That simple and obvious answer works perfectly with the reason why Indiana has taken the series lead. Have Hibbert's performances dictated game flow, not to mention final results? Um, yeah.
Game 1: The 7-foot-2 big man finished with zero points, zero rebounds, five fouls. The Wizards finished with a 102-96 win.
Game 2: Scores a season-high 28 points on 10 of 13 shooting from the field with nine rebounds as the Pacers even the series with an 86-82 victory.
Game 3: Midway through the second quarter, the Wizards led 27-20 as Hibbert had only two points on one field goal attempt. At this point, he was tracking for yet another zero-rebound performance and Indiana was tracking for another loss in the series.
The came the first of Indiana's sizable runs with Hibbert in the middle of it. Playing in the same arena he starred in during Georgetown days, Hibbert scored six points during a 13-1 spurt with two free throws, a reverse layup and dunk.
The Pacers led 34-33 at halftime - and by a bunch more in the third period after scoring 12 straight points. Hibbert capped that run with consecutive baskets as his hook shot gave Indiana a 50-38 lead. The rout was on from there.
"I think our guys derive energy when Roy starts to get going offensively," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said on Saturday. "I think it lifts up our whole group. It gives us sort of an emotional lift, sort of energizes us on both ends."
Hibbert's work on the defensive side helped the Pacers hold the Wizards to 33 percent shooting from the field in Friday's 85-63 win. Washington's 63 points set a franchise record for fewest in any game.
“Roy knows we’ve got his back," Indiana forward and fellow All-Star Paul George said on Friday. "He just has to continue to be consistent for us and we know some nights, it’s going to be tough. He’s not going to score 28 to 30 points night in and night out, but we’re always going to need him on the defensive end. For the past two games, he’s been great at just defending our basket.”
Nene and Marcin Gortat, the Wizards' top interior threats, finished 5 of 21 from the field for 12 points.
“We try to be active and defend at a high level because Nene and [Marcin] Gortat are really skilled big guys," Hibbert said. "Tried to help my guards out defending the pick and roll.”
The Pacers were a loosey-goosey, half-court shot practicing bunch on Saturday. After weeks of scrutiny due to inexplicable performances, most of the discussion focused on two straight wins and the team's first series lead this postseason. Hibbert's improvement combined with the impact on Indiana's psyche might be Washington's biggest fear of all. As Vogel said about his center's return to form, "It makes us feel like we’re back to being us."