INDIANAPOLIS – From his perch on the far side of the Washington Wizards‘ bench, Drew Gooden could see Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert knock down a turnaround jumper as the shot clock expired on the first possession of the game.
“I looked at Andre [Miller] and said, ‘That’s going to get him going right there,’” Gooden said.
Did it ever. Hibbert scored 28 points, his most in any game this season, and had nine rebounds and two blocks as the Pacers salvaged a split in their second-round series against the Wizards with an 86-82 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Marcin Gortat had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Bradley Beal added 17 points for the Wizards, who lost on the road for the first time and whose attempt to become the first No. 5 seed to return home with a 2-0 lead in each of their first two playoff series was foiled.
Hibbert, the Pacers‘ 7-foot-2 all-star center, faced plenty of criticism in recent days after being held without a point or a rebound in Game 1 on Monday. It was the third time in eight postseason games Hibbert had zero points or rebounds, and in recent days, his teammates and coaches pleaded with him, publicly and privately, to climb out of his rut and stave off a potential end to his team’s season.
“I’m sure he didn’t like the way he played the other night and I’m sure he didn’t like the criticism, so I’m sure that did have some impact,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. “But more than anything, I think he just wants to help this team win. It’s not about answering critics or anything like that. It’s just about he wants us to win. We lost Game 1. I think that’s what bothered him more than anything.”
Vogel said Tuesday he would try to get Hibbert more touches on offense, especially after he went 0-for-2 in the first game and was not the primary option on any of the Pacers‘ set plays. He ended up scoring the Pacers‘ first five points and touched the ball on their first five possessions, finishing the first quarter with seven points and the first half with 17.
“David [West] talked to me about being the person who rescues himself when you’re in the middle of the ocean,” Hibbert said. “There’s nobody to throw you a life raft or a rope to help you.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to get going. 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.”
When Hibbert wasn’t making shots – which was rare, considering he finished 10-for-13 from the floor – he worked to draw fouls, and he finished a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
He had just 37 points combined in the first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, rescuing the Pacers when they had an otherwise difficult night.