To see a giant of a man play no part in a game as important as the one the Indiana Pacers played Monday night is puzzling. You want to just shake your head as you wonder what’s on Roy Hibbert’s mind, because it sure ain’t basketball.
Hibbert had been expected to make a difference in this Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat. He was seen as the inside threat, an opposing figure who would stop Miami from scoring easily; he was also supposed to chip in with points, serving as a complement to the offensive talent Pacers coach Frank Vogel put on the floor.
But for the Pacers, Hibbert has been nothing of the sort, as his unexplainable no-point, 5-rebound game in a 102-90 loss two days ago showed. He was missing in action, as if he hadn’t bothered to suit up at all.
The Pacers might have been better without him.
His non-performance should come as no surprise at this point. Somewhere on the road to the conference finals, Hibbert lost his bearings. He’s a basketball player absent a sense of direction. He’s a big man who fills a space like a Mack truck fills a driveway: It can do little just sitting there.
The worst part of his play Monday was that people had seen it before. Hibbert had a game earlier in the playoffs when he had zero points and zero rebounds, the kind of double-double that hoops fans will talk about for years to come.
After the latest loss to Miami, Hibbert sounded almost indifferent to his horrid play.
"The game plan really wasn't to utilize me as much; I'm just trying to be effective as I can," Hibbert was quoted as saying on several websites. “Would I like a little bit more touches early on? Yeah. But that's how the cookie crumbles sometimes."
The cookie crumbles and so does the 2013-14 season for the Pacers. They trail LeBron James and the Heat 3-1, and the way the Pacers looked in their last game, they gave no hint that they were ready to take this seven-game series beyond five games.
In truth, Hibbert isn’t their lone problem. The Pacers have been in a daze since general manager Larry Bird tinkered with their roster in mid-February. Bird traded veteran Danny Granger, whose years as the team’s star player were behind him.
Yet what Granger was, was more than what he wasn’t. While he was no longer the straw that stirred the drink, he was the ingredient that gave the cocktail its kick.
Trading Granger made the Pacers younger, but trading Granger didn’t make the Pacers one bit better.
The trade also brought a volatile mix to the locker room, and however that mix turned out to be, it did nothing to motivate Hibbert. He had once shown glimpses he could be the best big man in basketball, which in a league short on big men isn’t effusive praise.
Still, he was better than having Andrew Bynum or Brian Scalabrine in the middle. Hibbert could block shots; he could rebound; and he could score. Or he could do those things in the first part of the NBA season.
In the second part and in the playoffs, he’s been worse than having nothing in the middle, and because of that, Hibbert and the Pacers won’t see a Game 7 in this series.
They will go out without showing any of the fighting spirit that made the Pacers the darlings of the NBA last June when Hibbert & Co. had everybody thinking LeBron’s attempt at a three-peat would come apart at the seams during the conference finals and not the NBA Finals.
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(Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)