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All-Star showing flashes of past success


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INDIANAPOLIS

Introspection, it seems, is Roy Hibbert’s best friend or worst enemy.

One extreme or the other, there seems to be no in-between.

For example, during a two-month stretch when he seldom played like an All-Star, critical self-analysis, which Hibbert often voices after particularly bad performances, only seemed to exacerbate his problems.

 

Over-thinking wasn’t helping.

Then there was Wednesday night’s effort against the visiting Washington Wizards, which came in the wake of even deeper self-reflection.

Criticized mercilessly in recent weeks for his well-documented struggles, Hibbert came to life in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and almost single-handedly led the Indiana Pacers to a win they had to have.

He had 28 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots and was by far their most effective player during the 86-82 victory.

Active, aggressive, confident and efficient, the 7-foot-2, 290-pound center did all the things he hasn’t done in recent weeks — the product, he insists, of taking advice from teammate David West.

Instead of over-analyzing, Hibbert challenged himself to cure himself.

It worked.

For a night, at least.

“Just haven’t been as aggressive as I should have been in the past. You have to look within yourself to make things happen,” said Hibbert, who was scoreless in three of the previous four games. “David talked to me about being the person that rescues yourself when you’re in the middle of the ocean.

“There’s nobody to throw a life raft or rope out there to help you. You have do it yourself.”

In the process of rescuing himself, Hibbert might well have rescued the top-seeded Pacers’ bid to win the series. At the very least, he gave them a second lease on life. They dropped Game 1 at home and could ill afford to go on the road trailing 0-2.

Game 3 is tonight at Washington. The fifth-seeded Wizards host Game 4 on Sunday. The Pacers, who squandered home-court advantage, have to win at least once on the road to take the best-of-seven series.

“We know that’s a tough team over there, and we’ll be ready for their adjustments in Game 3,” said West, referring to a logical assumption the Wizards will defend Hibbert differently. “I just thought he was very calm and very subdued throughout the day. This last day-and-a-half (before Game 2) has been tough on him.

“We’ve just been trying to encourage him and keep him uplifted. I just thought he played his game and sort of let all the outside noise go away.”

Incessant in recent days, the noise, personal taunts and criticisms have blared on social media, sports talk radio and postgame TV broadcasts, to name just a few sources. Although the Pacers have been criticized in general for underachieving (TNT analyst Charles Barkley famously called them “wussies” during the Atlanta series), the harshest commentary has been reserved for Hibbert, who was even disparaged by former NBA players Tracy McGrady and Gilbert Arenas after having no points or rebounds in Monday’s Game 1 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Heading into Game 2, a general theme had emerged that Hibbert was perhaps finished, washed up as an NBA player. He had become a national joke, a two-time All-Star who suddenly — inexplicably — forgot how to play.

For a night, at least, Hibbert proved the narrative wrong.

“That’s the remarkable thing. He did it on his own,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “If you play with a certain level of force, the ball finds you. More than anything, I think he just wants to help this team win.

“It’s not about answering critics or anything like that. He wants us to win.”

Teammates want the same. And they know much of their postseason fortunes rest on Hibbert’s broad shoulders, which is why they continue to support and encourage him.

“After all he’s been through, everything that’s going on, him day after day just getting killed by the media, I’m happy he was able to come through after all that,” said season-scoring leader Paul George, whose light 11-point Game 2 performance was offset by Hibbert’s production.

Hibbert was 10 of 13 from the field and made all eight of his free-throw attempts.

“He was under control and took his time when he got the ball,” West said. “He got the shots that he wanted. He was just getting good position.

“And when you’re his size, and he’s got a foot in the paint, it’s a rule of ours that he has to touch the ball.”

A notoriously harsh self-critic, Hibbert can’t explain why his play dipped after the All-Star Game then tanked in the playoffs. Hyper-analysis probably had something to do with it, but calm reflection — and resolve — might be the cure.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to get out there and do things, and I think it weighed on me a little bit,” Hibbert said. “I don’t want to get into excuses. I think I was making a lot of excuses throughout the second half of the season and the playoffs.

“I just decided to take it into my own hands and turn it around.”

As a result, he just might have turned around the series.

At the very least, he’s made it interesting.

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