If looks could kill, Larry Bird would be in jail today charged with manslaughter. As the waning seconds of the Indiana Pacers‘ Game 1 loss to the Washington Wizards ticked away, you could see the cross-hairs on Roy Hibbert‘s chest.
Hibbert’s fall from grace continued on Monday night with a zero point, zero rebound performance in 18 minutes. That brings his playoff averages to 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Head coach Frank Vogel is scrambling to find answers, and Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi cannot be expected to carry the burden for much longer. This team has no continuity, and Hibbert’s disappearance is the alpha and omega of the Pacers’ struggles.
Reports have surfaced that David West and Rasual Butler pulled Hibbert aside after the game and unleashed a verbal beat-down to motivate the big man to step it up. Not only is he absent offensively, but he is not protecting the rim on defense and apparently these two veteran players have had enough. Offensive woes notwithstanding, Hibbert could dedicate himself to owning the paint defensively with pure aggression and size.
As it stands, Hibbert is little better than a cardboard cutout. He has 27 personal fouls in eight playoff games, which is higher than his rebound total (26) and minutes per game average (21.4). His turnover average (1.5) exceeds his blocked shot average (1.4). For a man making $58 million and being counted on as the centerpiece of the Pacers’ playoff table, Hibbert is the salad bowl everybody forgot about.
Vogel cannot motivate Hibbert and it is not clear as to whether West or Butler can either. After all, they could have been the “selfish dudes” Hibbert referred to in an interview after a shameful loss to the Wizards back in March. Hibbert was upset about the lack of ball movement on offense and seemed to assign blame to teammates for the Pacers’ downhill slide after the All-Star Game. That approach may be coming back to bite him with a vengeance.
The Pacers will not be able to escape another round with Hibbert in a funk. The Atlanta Hawks were not scared of them, and if two or three shots dropped in Game 6, Atlanta and Washington would be duking it out right now. Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague drew a blueprint for the rest of the playoff teams to use: attack the walking 7-foot-2 liability in the middle and he will fold up like a cheap tent.
John Wall, Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza are going straight to the rim unimpeded because Washington is too quick and Indiana’s big man is getting the hook straight to the 12th seat on the bench. Does anyone remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Robert Parish falling apart this way? Big-time players step up on the biggest stage and that is how champions are made. Bird knows what it takes; he has three rings and a list of Hall of Fame teammates and opponents that are some of the best in NBA history.
Hibbert has shown flashes of greatness in the past but appears to have “gone gentle into that good night” in 2014. Why? Nobody knows but Hibbert, and his responses to questions about his play are canned and boilerplate. Vogel has thrown up his hands. If Washington takes this series, those questions will turn into accusations. That is a result that Indiana can ill afford, literally and figuratively.
Hibbert won’t have to worry about protecting the rim anymore if this thing goes south. He will have to protect himself from Bird.