Has the curse of Andrew Bynum finally been lifted?
On the day the Bynum experiment was officially terminated (ruled out for the rest of the playoffs), Roy Hibbert exploded out of the gate and powered the Pacers to a 86-82 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to tie their series with the Washington Wizards at 1-1. After that 0-0 in game one, Hibbert had 28 points and 9 rebounds to go with 2 blocks on 10-13 shooting.
Paul George posted a photo of him, Hibbert and George Hill fishing yesterday to dispel all the talk of the team’s locker room falling apart. The Pacers said they were sick of all the BS about the team and were putting all the talk behind them. They played as a team tonight, showing their faith in Hibbert by going to him repeatedly in the post, and Hibbert rewarded that faith by having one of the best games of his career. It was Hibbert’s offense that forced the Wizards to adjust their defense, and that opened things up for everyone else.
And it still wasn’t easy. The Pacers were down by 2 at the half and after a see-saw battle they were still down by 3 with just under 6 minutes to go. From there, four different Pacers scored to turn the deficit into a 3-point lead, and the Wizards certainly helped by jacking up a few ill-advised threes. When Wall finally decided to drive to the basket, he was stripped by George Hill on the biggest defensive play of the night, and Lance Stephenson provided the dagger on the next possession with a long jumper to extend the lead to 5.
Bradley Beal would knock down a huge three-pointer to cut the lead back down to 2, but David West would knock down two beastly free throws to effectively ice the game.
The Pacers have responded every time their backs have been against the wall, and they’ve done it by making adjustments and playing desperate. Tonight, the big story was of course Hibbert, though it remains to be seen whether he can back it up for the rest of the series. The last time he had a decent game, putting up 13 and 7 in game 7 against the Hawks, he came back with a 0-0 game. No one is going to ask him to get 28 and 9 every night, but at least the effort and the rim protection need to be there.
Moving forward, the Pacers still have a lot of work to do because this Wizards team is for real and should remain confident. So many things went right for the Pacers — Hibbert had a big game and they only had 7 turnovers as a team; the Wizards missed 7 of 12 free throws and had just one fast break point — and yet they still only won by 4 in a tightly contested game at home.
For starters, the Pacers will need to do a better job of cleaning up the boards as they were out-rebounded again, 43-38 this time, but dominated 11-4 on the offensive glass. And Paul George needs to find his offense somehow against Trevor Ariza, who locked him down again to just 11 points on 5-13 shooting. Like Hibbert, George needs to change things up a little to get his offense going because they’ll need him to score if the Pacers are going to come back in this series.
The Pacers bench also needs to be more active, in particular Luis Scola, who missed all four of his jumpers tonight and finished with just a point and a rebound. And shame on Vogel to give Copeland just a couple of seconds tonight, setting a play up for him to shoot a three at the end of the half. He missed, and that was the end of his night. Evan Turner didn’t take a shot and had 2 assists and 2 rebounds and a steal in 8 minutes, but his defense was suspect as usual.
At least for now, the Pacers are looking good again, but they’ll need to get at least one up in DC to have a realistic chance of moving to the next round. Game 3 is on Friday at 8pm ET.