Indiana’s Roy Hibbert had the perfect knockout combination Friday night.
On offense, he made all but two shots. On defense, he protected the rim. At the free-throw line, he couldn’t miss and no matter what the Bucks tried to stop the former All-Star center, nothing worked.
Hibbert finished with season-highs of 24 points and eight blocks and added 10 rebounds to lead unbeaten Indiana past Milwaukee 104-77 – the Pacers’ most lopsided rout in a 9-0 start.
”We have expectations and we want to win,” Hibbert said. ”We want to play deep, deep into the playoffs. You gain confidence with your teammates when we’re all on the same page and we all have one goal. Some guys on this team before were just trying to get a paycheck and go home and then chilling on the beach and sip mojitos or something like that. That’s not us. ”
Hibbert was referring to the teams he played on when he first arrived in Indy.
There’s no doubt that philosophy has changed. On Friday, the Pacers followed the same blue-collar script they’ve used to win their first nine.
Milwaukee had a season-low point total, finished well below its season average of 93.7 points, and shot just 34.1 percent against the league’s No. 1 defense. It’s the fourth time Indiana has held an opponent to 80 or fewer points this season and it’s the second time this week.
Now, after becoming the first team in the league to start 9-0 since Dallas in 2002-03, Indiana has a chance to reach even more milestones.
The defending Central Division champs head to Chicago on Saturday with a chance to become the 14th team in league history to go 10-0 and they can break the longest winning streak in the franchise’s NBA history. Indiana also won nine straight from Nov. 2-22 in 2002. Another win also would put them on the precipice of the longest winning streak in Pacers history (11), which stretches all the way back to 1972-73, when they were still in the ABA.
About the only bad move coach Frank Vogel made Friday was pulling Hibbert early rather than allowing him to try and become the second Pacers player this week to post a triple-double.
Hibbert, true to form, didn’t care. He’d rather beat Chicago anyway for the second time in 10 days and at least lock up a tie in the season series against their fiercest division rival.
”You know what? I look at the bigger picture. We have Chicago tomorrow, might as well just get a little bit a rest,” Hibbert said. ”A triple-double would have been great, but one of these times, everything’s going to line-up, the stars, moon, sun, everything’s going to line up and I’ll have one of those.”
So Hibbert focused on his job.
While Indiana’s top scorer Paul George struggled to get open in the first half, Hibbert scorched the Bucks for 14 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in just 15 minutes. After making halftime adjustments, the Bucks still couldn’t stop the 7-foot-2 center, whom Vogel called the early front-runner for defensive player of the year.
And this time, Hibbert was just as proficient on the offensive end. He knocked down 8 of 10 shots from the field, made all eight of his free throws and dominated the matchup with feisty Zaza Pachulia, who played with a sore right foot.
”We threw what we had at him, but it didn’t seem to affect him at all,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. ”You try to take something away and you give something else up. They played well. That team’s playing really well.”
George finished with 22 points, 17 in the second half. Lance Stephenson, who had his first triple double Monday night, had 11 points and four rebounds during a game in which the Pacers fell behind twice in the first quarter, for just 64 seconds.
Injury-riddled Milwaukee (2-6) has now dropped four straight. O.J. Mayo led the Bucks with 20 points, and his only teammates to reach double figures were Khris Middleton and Gary Neal, who each had 11.
They just didn’t have a chance against the league’s hottest team.
Coming off of a three-day break, Indiana started sluggishly, then used an 11-2 run to put Milwaukee in a 21-14 hole. The Pacers never looked back.
Indiana closed the first quarter on an 8-3 spurt to make it 31-21, extended the lead to 53-37 at the half and then pulled away in the third quarter when George accounted for six points in a 7-2 spurt and George and Hibbert accounted for all seven points in a 7-0 spurt to make it 68-53.
Milwaukee never got closer than 11 again.
”Every game could be the difference between home-court advantage and not having home-court advantage,” Vogel said. ”It doesn’t matter. We’re on a mission and we’re trying to put ourselves in best possible position come playoff time. ”
Notes: Indiana has already beaten all four of its Central Division foes. … Milwaukee played without Caron Butler, Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders. … The Bucks have lost five straight in Indy.