Criticism - the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.
Response – an answer or reply, as in words or some action.
Roy Hibbert took the insurmountable criticism, used a day on the lake with teammate Paul George to relax, talk about life in general, and regain his composure. The response came Wednesday evening, as Hibbert destroyed the Washington Wizards in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, scoring 28 points on 10-of-13 shooting, grabbing nine rebounds, and going a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line.
Hibbert’s 28 points easily surpassed his total for the first six playoff games this year, taking his 13-point Game 7 performance vs. Atlanta out of the equation.
When it was time for Hibbert to finally match the intensity of his opponent — something he hasn’t done since March 26 in the war vs. Miami — the world was reminded just how much the game of basketball is dependent upon confidence, friendly bounces, and an inside-out play style.
Everyone jumped on Hibbert’s case after the zero point, zero rebound performance in Game 1’s loss to Washington, but failed to take in consideration that Indiana didn’t play with the same offensive mentality in Game 1 as they did on Wednesday. When they are looking to play through Hibbert and he’s seeing his shot fall early on, you seem to forget the Pacers have three other options just waiting for their time to rise.
In Game 2’s win, Hibbert had 47 touches, and you can put that up against his nine touches in Game 1 to develop enough reasoning for his success.
Washington’s Bradley Beal understood that the Wizards gave themselves a chance to win, there was just nothing they could do to prevent an overdue, recently blasted 7’2″ force.
“You have to tip your hat off to [Hibbert],” Beal said with a smile. “He was going to wake up eventually, but I think our bigs are going to do a better job next game of just trying to contain him the best they can.”
Beal had problems of his own during the loss, so he had no time to worry about the damage Hibbert was doing on the frontcourt. Vogel went with a different approach in Game 2, placing one of the best perimeter defenders in the sport — Paul George — on Beal to cause havoc with his long reach, quick agility, and ball pressure. Although George didn’t pay enough respect to Trevor Ariza‘s basketball IQ and outside shooting ability in Game 1, he limited Beal’s attack and rattled him a bit throughout the night.
“Paul George is a great defender man,” Beal admitted. “He definitely made it tough on me, he’s long, athletic, gets a lot of deflections, so he definitely made life hard. But I think, moving forward, I’m gonna watch film and see how he’s playing me, and hopefully try to take advantage of what he’s giving me.”
That’s sure a lot of praise to give a guy who wants to keep your team’s Conference Finals drought deep in the hole.
Beal, possibly the most mature of any young 20-year-old in the league, will figure it out. This backcourt for Washington is the one with the highest ceiling, the most undaunted combo of guards that aren’t frightened by any top defense in the East. John Wall can take the heat for a controversial 3-point attempt with 2:28 remaining in the fourth quarter, but he’s just as confident as Beal in terms of taking the series back to Washington D.C. and trying to return to Indianapolis up 3-1.
Wall’s 3-pointer, that fell short of tying the game at 82 late in the fourth, came directly off an offensive rebound tap-back by Marcin Gortat. There was still a number of possessions for both teams before any desperation was needed from Washington (you can see the entire play in the clip above).
However, Wall, reflecting back, still believes it was a good attempt to tie the game and put Indiana on their heels. To him, the quick jack after an offensive board is one dangerous attack against a defensive team.
“I think one of the best shots in basketball is — unless you got a lead you’re trying to run clock — a kick-out three off an offensive rebound,” Wall said. “That’s one of the best shots. It’s a shot I take most of the season, and sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t.”
This actually occurred three different times late in the game, as Wall was looking to put the pressure on the home team. It goes back to the first round series with Atlanta, as the Hawks knew they would be in for bad luck if they didn’t close out the Pacers in six games. The same mentality can go for Washington, but in a different manner. Putting Indiana down 0-2 and heading back to The Verizon Center, one of the most deprived arenas from the second round, would make this series all but over. The Pacers don’t have the stability and consistent offensive attack to come through with four wins in five games, and that’s what they would’ve had to do. So, from that standpoint, Wall was trying to be a killer. He just didn’t draw blood.
Blatantly, a player’s perspective on the game and it’s sequences/situations is much different than that of a writer, fan, or commentator. They’re all about the big stage, the huge moment, the here and now. Others take on a different view, and look at the game in it’s totality, and that’s why this sequence above will remain questionable. Above, we see Wall’s aforementioned 3-point attempt, in which he received the offensive rebound and quickly stepped into his shot.
He’s in rhythm, and has the space to fire, but take a look at the game situation. Immediately after the shot clock reset, you would like to see Washington run their patent high pick-and-roll with Nene, or perhaps Gortat (who shot 10-of-15 in the game!) and try to cut the lead to one. Who knows, as skilled and mobile as everyone on the court is for Randy Wittman, they could’ve found Beal a better look since this was one of the rare times George switched off him. Before Wall grabbed the offensive board, George had drifted off Beal to collect the tap-out, and Wall could’ve went to work off the dribble.
There were so many options with such a closely-contested game coming down to the wire, in a matchup where Washington could have ripped the Pacers’ confidence right out of their chest, and ended the series in all likelihood. Wall’s basketball mind is off the chart, so you can’t verbally abuse him for being eager to step up in the spotlight. All the Wizards needed here, however, was patience. They’re a much better halfcourt offense than the Pacers, and perhaps the second best in the Eastern Conference if you take a step back and break it down. Utilize it when it matters.
Whether or not Washington will be loud and electric isn’t even a question. Instead, all the eyes will be on Indiana’s max-contract center, Hibbert, who has to answer the call for consistency.
When I asked Wall how exactly Washington can make Hibbert feel their presence again and limit his production for Game 3, his simplistic response said it all, with a smirk that couldn’t help but send a signal that Hibbert had a lucky one on Wednesday, and his struggles aren’t over.
“Yeah, do what we did in Game 1.”