INDIANAPOLIS – Can the Indiana Pacers clone Roy Hibbert?
That would be the easiest way to solve their LeBron James problem, the nightmare James created for the Pacers in Game 3 by driving to the basket and posting up in the paint. While James found success down low, the Miami Heat also spread out the rest of their offense, drawing the Pacers’ defenders out to the perimeter and taking advantage of the open space that created.
That meant Hibbert, the Pacers’ 7-2 center, often was unable to help guard the rim, as he’d done all season and previously in the series. Keeping Hibbert on his toes and out of the paint was part of Miami’s game plan.
“We can’t just let him sit down in the post and patrol the lane without making him think a little bit about what he has to do,” Miami Heat forward/center Chris Bosh said. “Udonis (Haslem, who had 17 points on 8-for-9 shooting) was a big part of that. We’re going to have to utilize our outside shooting to lure (Hibbert) out – just a couple of steps, so he won’t be as quick to the challenges as usual.”
The Pacers spent much of Monday’s interview session promising changes and adjustments. Anything to combat the attack the Heat used to exploit one of the NBA’s best defenses. News reporters asked Hibbert over and over how he could help Paul George with James posting up in the paint while also defending his man on the perimeter.
“I’m going to do both – guard the paint and get out there,” Hibbert said. “This series, if we want to win, I have to do everything. ... It’s the playoffs, and I don’t want to go home. If I have to move my feet a lot quicker, I’ll do it.”
Hibbert can alter games, or at least alter the way opponents attack the rim, because of his defense and shot-blocking (2.6 a game this season). After Game 1, Pacers coach Frank Vogel drew criticism for keeping Hibbert on the bench during James’ buzzer-beating layup in overtime. According to ESPN Stats & Info, James went 4-for-5 with no turnovers when Hibbert was on the bench, and James went just 1-for-2 with four turnovers on drives to the basket with Hibbert in. This pattern has repeated itself throughout the series.
If you can’t beat ’em, erase ’em. The Heat have pulled Hibbert away from the paint to make room for James and others to attack.
“They spread us out and hit jump shots at the beginning of (Game 3),” Hibbert said. “I think we worried about that a little more. They were driving and scoring after that. We have to figure that out. ... We’ll tinker with some things.”
The Pacers likely will spend most of their time before today’s Game 4 working on their defensive strategy, but their offense warrants a look, too. Part of Indiana’s struggles and poor percentages can be chalked up to the pressures of playing from behind, but some statistics are glaring.
For Hibbert, the eye-catching stat is 4-for-12 (.333) from the field, his worst shooting night since Game 4 of the Pacers’ Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks. (Hibbert also went 12-for-15 from the line on Sunday, creating a rather odd overall stat line.)
Bosh was pleased with the way the Heat limited Hibbert down low.
“(We) try to do our best to keep him out of the paint,” Bosh said. “Once he gets those layups and other shots, and if he’s shooting 60 percent, he can single-handedly keep them in the game.”
And Hibbert can do that defensively, too – even if he can’t be in two places at once – making him arguably the Pacers’ most important piece heading into Game 4.
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