- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS — Paul George sat down in front of several television cameras on Monday night and made what amounted to an impassioned plea for teammate Roy Hibbert to save not only his season, but the Indiana Pacers‘ as well.

Hibbert was held without a point or a rebound in the Pacers‘ 102-96 loss to the Washington Wizards in Game 1 of the teams’ second-round series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, marking the third time in the playoffs — and the third time in a week — he disappeared from the stat sheet.

He did not make either of his shots, missing a midrange jumper not even 90 seconds into the game and then coming up short on another with 2:34 remaining. He also picked up five fouls, three in the first half, but did block two shots and was credited with an assist.

“He’s going to find his way through, but we need him now,” George said during his postgame press conference. “I have faith that along the way, he’s going to find himself. But again, we’re at a point where we’re really going to need Roy, and we really need him now.”

The 7-foot-2 center, drafted out of Georgetown in 2008, was an all-star this season for the second time and the runner-up to the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah in NBA Defensive Player of the Year balloting. Unlike Noah, who was less active on offense but crashed the boards during a first-round series loss to the Wizards, Hibbert wasn’t much of a presence on defense Monday, either.

That will have to change Wednesday if the Pacers hope to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole against the Wizards with the series then set to shift back to Washington for Game 3.

“It’s tough, but just got to try to help the team win,” Hibbert said. “The main thing [in Game 2] is to stay out of foul trouble and box out and rebound.”

Hibbert was held without a point and without a rebound in Games 5 and 6 of the Pacers‘ first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he was the first starting center to fall into that distinction since 1970 (when the league began tracking who started a game).

His performance in Game 7 was essential, helping the Pacers advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 92-80 victory over the Hawks by scoring 13 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking five shots.

The Pacers had hoped that momentum, and a bit of positive reinforcement, would help their giant awaken in time for the next round of the playoffs. Yet, on Monday, nothing.

After the game, starting forward David West, considered the team’s leader, and veteran swingman Rasual Butler were seen having a conversation with Hibbert in the weight room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and each declined to comment afterward on the nature of the discussion.

On Tuesday, both George and coach Frank Vogel downplayed the event, with each saying that such a conversation, especially involving West, after a game isn’t uncommon.

“We talk to one another just to see where guys’ heads are and what’s going on during the game,” George said. “It’s nothing that was new. I think it was really just taken out of context because it was a playoff game or whatnot, but we do it all the time.”

Vogel said he’s hoping to draw up more plays for Hibbert during Game 2. He said he did not call for Hibbert to take the shot at the end of any set play on Monday, but he noted that it’s not unusual for that to be the case because Hibbert is the fifth offensive option among the Pacers‘ starting five.

Still, Hibbert averaged 10.8 points per game during the regular season, including a nine-game stretch from Nov. 27 through Dec. 13 when he scored more than 12 points.

He scored a season-high 26 in a home loss to the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 30, and he had 13, 12 and eight points in the Pacers‘ three games against the Wizards during the regular season.

“He was not 0-for-11 or 0-for-15 [Monday],” Vogel said. “He was 0-for-2, so we can’t overreact to his production on the offensive end, and we need him to be a factor on the offensive glass. That’s where we need him the most on the offensive end.”

With Hibbert and backup center Ian Mahinmi, who had two points and zero rebounds in 12 minutes, unable to produce, the Wizards‘ frontcourt had an easy day. Center Marcin Gortat had 12 points and 15 rebounds, reserve forward Drew Gooden had 12 points and 13 rebounds off the bench, and starting forward Nenê had 15 points.

Together, the Pacers‘ 20 points in the paint marked their fewest in any game this season, and Washington’s 17 offensive rebounds led to 19 second-chance points.

Those are things Hibbert, alone, has the ability to change. Vogel said he wasn’t looking to change his starting lineup for Game 2, but conceded that the situation is always something he’s going to have to monitor — until Hibbert gives him reason otherwise.

“I’m a professional, so I’ve got to figure it out and we’ll have to figure it out,” Hibbert said.

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