If you’re taking the short view — and in a 24-hour sports culture, we’re almost forced to — the Pacers’ 90-84 win over the Heat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday night could symbolize a “passing of the torch,” a “watershed moment,” a “statement game,” or [insert clichéd phrase here]. Roy Hibbert once again proved to be the antidote to LeBron James and Co. with an impressive win at home. In the long term, though, the win means nothing at all beyond the surface reactions.
With three more meetings in a season that’s barely gotten to the first quarter mark, Indiana’s second half surge for the win is a tiny blip on the radar screen of the 2-time defending champion Heat. But the win does reiterate what a lot of observers noted during last season’s tantalizing 7-game Eastern Conference Finals series. Namely: what the hell are the Heat going to do about Roy Hibbert?
The 7-2 center killed them in last season’s Conference Finals (averaging over 20 PPG for the series), and he did so again last night with 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Just look at how easily Hibbert scores in the post with three Heat players around him, and how simple his follow-up dunk becomes when Chris Andersen slides over to challenge a driving C.J. Watson layup:
The Heat simply don’t have anyone — until Greg Oden is ready to go — who can match up with Hibbert’s length and strength. While Roy’s offense blossoms against the small ball Heat and the Chris Bosh/Chris Andersen duo, it’s his defense that stymies this Heat team even more because it negates LeBron James’ greatest asset: finishing at the rim.
We’ve waxed poetic about Hibbert’s defensive acumen before, but last night was a study in how his presence can affect even a player of LeBron’s caliber.
James shot 6-of-16 from the floor, by far his worst shooting performance of this young season where he’s been connecting on 59 percent of his shots from the field. Wiry Paul George certainly helped to slow LeBron down, but it was Hibbert anchoring the back line that proved to be LeBron’s greatest impediment to the rim.