MIAMI — Indiana center Roy Hibbert wasn’t thrilled with being benched late in Game 1 against Miami. So what did he do?
He went back to his hotel room and ordered room service. Then he announced he would be fielding questions on Twitter until his food arrived in 40 minutes.
Hibbert patiently answered nearly 100. Even some that weren’t exactly flattering
“You clumsy as (expletive). That’s why (Pacers coach Frank) Vogel put your goofy (butt) on the bench,” read one message, referring to the 7-foot-2 rim protector being sat down for the final 2.2 seconds of overtime in Game 1, a period when Heat star LeBron James streaked to the basket for the winning layup.
Hibbert responded by writing, “Thanks. That’s prob why I was an all str n a max player.”
That’s about as much gloating as Hibbert ever will do. He’s a level-headed cerebral guy who played four years at Georgetown and who is as approachable as any NBA player.
“I just wanted to be able to talk to the fans and everything,” Hibbert said about why he took to Twitter not long after the difficult 103-102 loss last Wednesday to open the Eastern Conference finals. “It was a tough loss, but I’m really a team player and I appreciate the fans. I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to do it.’ … I’m always approachable and down to earth and I don’t have an ego or anything like that.”
Hibbert also mentioned to his followers @Hoya2aPacer that, “We we will b ready for game 2. Energy isn’t a problem. We r a yount team.”
The Pacers were indeed ready Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. They bounced back from the crushing defeat in Game 1 to win 97-93 and tie the Eastern Conference finals at 1-1.
A key reason was Hibbert, who played in his first All-Star Game in February 2012 and last summer as a free agent re-signed with Indiana for $58 million over four years. He scored a playoff career-high 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Heat center Chris Bosh had said before Game 1 the key to the series would be the battle at center. Hibbert is winning it heading into Sunday’s Game 3 at Indiana.
He’s averaging 24.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and shooting 19 of 33 (57.6 percent) in the two games to 17.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 12 of 25 shooting (48.0 percent) for Bosh. Both players have two blocks in the series.
“They were more aggressive (Friday) trying to get him the basketball,” Bosh said of Hibbert scoring 19 points in the first half as the Pacers took a 53-47 lead. “You could tell that they were trying to get him off to a good start early. They made some great passes, some great angles. He got a couple easy buckets early and he drew a lot of fouls. So we have to do a better job. We have to look at the game film and see what we did wrong and fix it.”
It wasn’t a surprise Indiana went to Hibbert early. Vogel had received plenty of criticism for benching his center during the final seconds of Game 1, believing he needed a more agile lineup to defend against a possible open jumper by Bosh.
That didn’t happen as James went to the basket with ease. Hibbert was disappointed at not being in the game, saying afterward he should have been vocal about it to his coach.
“I get asked a lot of questions about whether I should be in the game or not but you never know,” Hibbert said after Friday’s game about how the 48 hours had gone before Game 2 and how he was able to respond. “Things could have been different. They could have scored. I could have been there to block (James’) shot. They could have run a different play. But you have to let it go and just keep rolling with the punches.”
Hibbert did just that. He was pivotal Friday on the offensive glass, grabbing seven of his rebounds on that end against the smaller Heat.
“He goes every single time,” Vogel said. “He doesn’t take a possession off on the glass. Gives us a lift in the post. Efficient scoring. Great extra passing. Just making winning plays.”
Bosh and backup center Chris Andersen both had problems with Hibbert. After Andersen picked up his third foul with 1:51 left in the first half and Hibbert hit two free throws, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra even went with third-string center Joel Anthony, giving him meaningful minutes for the first time this postseason. But that didn’t work as Hibbert quickly made a layup and Anthony then missed a 3-footer.
Hibbert has stepped up his offensive game during the playoffs, his 15.4 average being 3.5 points higher than it was during the regular season. Going back to the Game 6 close-out win over New York in an East semifinal, Hibbert has averaged 23.0 points in his past three games in addition to 10.3 rebounds.
Hibbert has had strong games before against the Heat. In Game 3 of an East semifinal last year, he totaled 19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks as the Pacers won to take a 2-1 lead.
But Hibbert faltered the rest of the series, averaging 10.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks as Indiana dropped the final three games. The Pacers are using memories of that collapse to help them this time.
“We’re a tough-it-out team,” Hibbert said. “We learned from last year. We learned from (Wednesday’s loss). We’re a growing and evolving team… We’re a gritty team. (The Heat are) at the top. We’re coming for them.”
So how fired up are the Pacers against Miami? When Hibbert was tweeting to his followers, he even made an analogy to his meal not yet having arrived.
“Just like I am now waiting on my food. We r hungry as hell,” he wrote.