Roy Hibbert grabbed the rebound of Paul George's missed jumper, went up strong in traffic, scored, and drew a foul with 1:23 left in the game.
It was a big play. His subsequent free throw and three-point play would put the Pacers up nine points over Philadelphia, all but clinching their 50th victory. But Hibbert didn't celebrate. Didn't even seem happy. He walked away from the basket stone-faced, ignoring George Hill's outstretched hand, a man lost in his thoughts.
Hibbert offered the same demeanor in the locker room afterward. While his teammates enjoyed the 99-90 win with smiles and laughter, he sat in front of his locker in the corner of the room, leaning back in his chair, still stone-faced, his chin propped in his hand, staring into space.
What's up, Roy?
“I just haven't been playing the best,” he said after scored eight points and grabbing five rebounds. “I have to do better. But we're winning and I'm happy for that. It was just good to see one of those baskets go in.”
Seems there's a clue there: “... good to see one of those baskets go in.” Hibbert would like to see more of his baskets going in, but that would require more shot attempts than the eight he got on Monday. So, when he got that rebound basket his thought process appeared to be something along the lines of, “Sure, I can shoot if I grab an offensive rebound, but what about all the other times?”
This is a familiar dilemma for Hibbert. He averages 9.3 shots per game, less than all the starters except George Hill. He'd like more, yet he doesn't want to disrupt a winning flow. So, he'll try to keep his focus on defending and rebounding. But even the rebounding hasn't gone all that well lately. The five he got in 27 ½ minutes on Monday are pretty much the norm for him lately.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel came to Hibbert's defense before the game, praising him for blocking out opposing centers and creating rebound opportunities for his teammates, but Hibbert wasn't finding solace in that, either. He'd like to touch the ball then, too. Get some stats there as well.
“I'm not seeing the ball for rebounds, either,” he said. “That's still frustrating (for me), to be clearing my man out and still not getting boards.
“But I'm OK. I'm not scoring, but .. I just have to be good at what I'm supposed to be good at, defense and closing out games.”
Hibbert said he's talked with Vogel about changing the substitution pattern so that he can play more with the second unit, and therefore have a larger role in the offense. But then again, he doesn't want to demand a change when the team still has the best record in the Eastern Conference, clinging to the top seed for the playoffs. But then again he's an All-Star center with a near-max contract, and feels he should be contributing more statistically. But then again, he probably has no choice in the matter.
“I can't be selfish,” he said. “Somebody has to sacrifice. I have to sacrifice for this team. Would anybody like to get 15 shots a game? Yeah. You're a human being and you have feelings, but you have to play through it and do what's best for the team.”
Hibbert's mild beef can be viewed as either a chicken or an egg because of the either-or conundrum it poses. Would he play better, in all areas, if he had a greater part in the offense? Or does he need to become more of an offensive threat before getting that role?
Fact is, Hibbert has been outplayed by his backup in the past four games, whether it was Ian Mahinmi, who had 10 points and five rebounds in 19 ½ active minutes on Monday in his return from a two-game asbsence due to a rib injury, or Andrew Bynum in the two games he's played, or even emergency center Lavoy Allen. Those three reserves have combined to average 11.5 points and 7 rebounds in 18 minutes over the last four games, while Hibbert has averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 30 minutes.
“I think he's just got to play his way through it,” Vogel said. “He hasn't been terrible, but he hasn't been dominant either. He just has to play through it.”
The Pacers usually make a point of getting Hibbert shots early in games, and then tend to go away from him. Getting more shots for him as games progress will have to be a collective effort, one that includes his ability to get open for shots, and hit more of the ones that he gets.
“He's got to get himself in a better rhythm,” West said. “And we have to do a better job of getting the ball to him where he's comfortable.”
It figures to be an ongoing story line for the Pacers. But one they can win with.