If the Indiana Pacers didn’t need anything, is Roy Hibbert losing his focus and cool. The curse words at the reporters and the gay slur ended up being a fine, but Frank Vogel needs to worry his weary big man, making a world of difference in the conference finals, has enough left in his legs and in his mind to carry his team across the finish line.
The difference between a close-out game and an elimination game can be confusing, but the Pacers are heading into a game 7 that is naturally is both of them, with the difference probably being the level of expectations and confidence. The Pacers couldn’t be more booming with confidence after their 91-77 win over the Heat in game 6, bringing the unbeatable team, on paper at least, to its knees, and to run out of ideas on how to stop the Pacers on that certain night.
It begins and ends with the presence of Hibbert, who is averaging 22.8 points per game on nearly 40 minutes a night. It clearly shows, especially late in games, that Hibbert is slowing down, but his presence is enough to be a game changer, while the quicker legs around him did a good job in keeping the Heat away from the basket. Paul George scored 28 points, and he’s relishing another opportunity to face either Dwyane Wade or Ray Allen.
While Hibbert has been the most important player, he’s been the constant and the predictable factor in the Indiana’s game plan. What’s a little bit harder to predict is how good George Hill will be, with a 15 point swing in his production between game 5 and game 6, which probably made the difference, as Lance Stephenson continued being headstrong and uncooperative in his basketball on offense, even if his effort on defense sort of makes up for it.
With David West, it’s the same story. He’s putting up big numbers in short spurts, followed or preceded by long droughts and not being able to hit any shots. He played with a fever that made him the worst player on the court during the first half in game 6, but with the Pacers being a team that’s almost incapable of producing big runs and creating huge leads, having these long moments of offensive droughts, usually identified by the ball going less to Hibbert and in the paint, and more isolation plays from Hill, Stephenson and George, is inexcusable, especially on the road.
They can’t count on their bench, not for anything more than 15 combined points at best from Hansbrough-Augustin-Mahimi-Young, but they’ve known that for a long time. It’s going to be about their ability to keep the ball movement for the Heat at a slow pace, or at least trying to push LeBron James into isolation more and more. If he goes off, there’s nothing much you can do about it, but at least it keeps the rest of his teammates, including psuedo-superstars like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh cold and possibly even frustrated.
It’s been over a decade since the Pacers were in a situation of being one win away from the NBA finals, something no one but them expected to reach when this season, playoffs and series began. Now it’s going to take the kind of effort they showed in their last two home games and probably better to dethrone the Miami Heat, who are probably hurting, both on the outside and inside, but that usually makes experienced teams that are still not old a lot more dangerous, especially when they have the best player in the world.