INDIANAPOLIS — The Pacers just played a team that was missing its best big man. Well, in a sense, the Pacers didn’t have theirs either.
Anyone seen Roy Hibbert? Because he never really got rolling in this series and the Pacers never managed to take advantage of a situation that was made for him.
No Chris Bosh for Miami should’ve meant plenty of opportunities for Hibbert, the Pacers’ All-Star center. Instead, he lapsed into the background when the Pacers bowed out Thursday, pretty much as he had all series. He averaged 10 shots a game and 11 points, two below his regular season average.
A mild impact from Hibbert wasn’t the only reason the Pacers lost in six. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were epic. Yes, that would be the main reason. And the Pacers got sloppy with the ball when Miami turned up the defense; 22 turnovers killed them in Game 6.
And yet, the one area where the Pacers had a solid advantage was inside. With the big fella. With Hibbert in contract mode (he’s a restricted free agent this summer) he had every reason to be amped. But the Pacers never quite found him as much as they should’ve, and when he did have the ball, Hibbert wasn’t terribly dominant. In an elimination game, his Thursday tally said it all: 12 points, eight rebounds and eight shots, the fifth-fewest attempts on the squad.
Hibbert didn’t help his cause with four turnovers Thursday, and besides, he never demanded the ball as much as he should’ve. But then, maybe it shouldn’t have come to that.
“What worked for us in the Orlando series, we got away from this series, and that’s getting the ball to our bigs,” said Paul George.
Besides Hibbert, David West had his issues. West is the only other low-post presence but the Heat’s Shane Battier, who gives up six inches and about 35 pounds, did a fantastic defensive job on West in Games 4 and 5. With West inconsistent and Hibbert largely missing with the exception of Game 3, the Pacers turned into a transition and jump-shooting team, and that usually doesn’t work in the playoffs or against defensive teams like Miami that can rotate swiftly.
“We had an opportunity to play longer,” said West. “This series was there for the taking. We understand there are growing pains. It’s just not our time yet.”
It’ll be interesting to see what happens next with Hibbert. Will some team come along this summer and offer him in the neighborhood of $12 million or $13 million a season? That’s roughly what Marc Gasol — a first-time All-Star this season like Hibbert — got from the Grizzlies last summer. With a premium on size, don’t be surprised if somebody reached deep in their pocket in an attempt to steal Hibbert away.
Would that price be too rich for Indiana’s blood? The Pacers do have cap room but team president Larry Bird said they aren’t equipped to handle many big contracts because of the small market realities; the Pacers ranked next to last in home attendance this season.
“This season went fast,” Hibbert said.
So did the Pacers. And so did their “advantage.”