Hibbert, Hill stymie Pacers’ revival

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled with production since the All-Star break. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled to find their way of late. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

There is a particular reason why the Chicago Bulls have mourned the absence of All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and, in healthier times, felt confident about their chances against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat:

Center and point guard. The two positions where Miami has seemed most vulnerable through its three-Finals, two-titles reign over the NBA. And the two positions where the Bulls, with Rose and Joakim Noah (even before Noah’s blossoming in 2013-14), held distinct match-up advantages.

And then there are the Indiana Pacers, where center Roy Hibbert and point guard George Hill have embodied and driven – in an especially vicious circle these days – their team’s struggle against the Heat specifically and in the season’s stretch drive generally.

Hibbert is the one taking most of the grief, an obvious lightning rod given his stature literally and in Indiana’s preferred scheme of things. He’s a 7-foot-2 center who has come up about 4-foot-11 of late, shrinking at the task of nailing down the East’s top playoff berth.

Over the past 10 games, Hibbert has averaged 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 32.9 percent, all south of his expected numbers. His decline since the All-Star break is nothing short of alarming – from offensive and defensive ratings of 104 and 95 through his first 52 games, to 91 and 106 over the past 27.

And the past week went by almost without so much as a ping from the Pacers’ missing aircraft carrier: A nightmarish nine minutes, scoreless and without rebounds in a blowout loss to Atlanta. A game in street clothes in Milwaukee as part of coach Frank Vogel‘s rattle-whatever-cage-remains decision to sit out his starters. And just five points and one rebound in nearly 34 minutes in the smackdown in Miami, with the Heat taking apparent glee in finally solving their Hibbert headaches.

Hill, the team’s unassertive point guard – and one of the NBA’s few where “playmaker” can be subbed in as a synonym to mix up the phrasings – has been just as disappointing in the Pacers’ desperation to stop their swoon. Averages of 8.3 points and 3.4 assists, while hitting 42.4 percent of his field-goal attempts and 69.2 percent of his free throws.

He, too, has stepped into an open elevator shaft post-All Star break in some of the advanced metrics: true-shooting percentage down from 57.9 to 53.3, and a combo drop in offensive and defensive ratings from 117/98 to 110/112. If those were blood pressure numbers, the Pacers’ title hopes already would be dead.

All of this is a way of pointing out how challenging the Pacers’ matinee game against Oklahoma City (1 p.m. ET, ABC) figures to be Sunday. The gap between NBA Most Valuable Player favorite Kevin Durant and Indiana’s Paul George, a likely fourth- or fifth-place finisher, already is vast enough. But for Hill, matched up with the Thunder’s angry young man at the point, Russell Westbrook, it will be all he can do to hang on defensively, offense – no matter how badly Indiana needs a fix there – be danged.

For Hibbert, facing low-center-of-gravity Kendrick Perkins, relentlessly active Serge Ibaka and fundamentally sound Nick Collison is no way to get his game healthy. Last Sunday against the Hawks, Hibbert made Pero Antic look like Dave Cowens in his prime and had Pacers peeps excusing the (ahem) tough match-up. At Miami Friday, it was old reliable Udonis Haslem staying low, beating Hibbert to his spots and pushing him around to exploit that flamingo-like base the Pacers center seems to set.

Hill, George and the other Indiana players aren’t absolved when Hibbert struggles, either, given their lackadaisical entry passes and tendency seemingly to look away from the big man rather than establish him in the paint. Maybe they’ve grown tired of his soft left-handed hook shots and mid-range jumpers that rattle out, when what they crave is a nasty, rim-attacker who utilizes his greatest asset.

All in all, with the East’s No. 1 seed still remarkably in play, what might have teased at a potential Finals showdown – OKC vs. IND – looks more like a contender facing a calamity.

11 Comments

  1. I’m just glad Hill’s horrible play hasn’t gone unnoticed. His wingspan is the only thing keeping him in the starting lineup… and he’s really not great on defense. Last year during the playoffs, he folded under ball pressure … He and Stevenson were the X-Factors… this year..Stevenson is much improved, but Hill is playing worse….. If Hill shrinks in the playoffs this year, he’ll be moved to the 2nd unit… or worse

  2. Zan says:

    why hasnt anyone at nba.com noticed the “w” next to Dallas’ name in the standings. been days

  3. keek says:

    Hibbert is 7’2 without any form of a skillset, and he got his contract on size and pure potensial, How in the world can you be 7’2 and not be able to grap a rebound? I think it was against miami, where hibbert didnt get a rebound until the 4th quarter, thats ambarrasing!

    Im gonna say it, Paul George is overrated, he cant carry his team to wins when they need him to, he cant get buckets when they are strugling, thats what a superstar is. To have him in the same discussion with lebron and KD is an outrage, he isnt even close.

    • ayyylmao says:

      1. Roy Hibbert has a post game and can grab rebounds with the best of them
      2. If you’re gonna talk about how bad a player is, I would at least spell right

  4. okc2014 says:

    I hate that OKC lost today, but I’m glad the Pacers are closing in on he #1 seed over the Heat.

  5. Patty says:

    Turner is not a good fit for the Indiana Pacers. Rumors has it that Turner has started trouble with the starting Five of the Indiana Pacers.

  6. Patty says:

    Hibbert is a Great Player and he and Hill are not the reasons the Indiana Pacers are not looking like themselves. Paul George has not answered the call @ all. Paul George is not a Super Star. He appears to to be a lazy player.

    Why in the world would Larry Bird trade Danny Granger? There is a story behind that and we all deserve the reasons why they traded Granger.

  7. Bob M says:

    haha Blaming Hibbert and Hill for the “stymie” is only part of the the story. Earlier this season, Paul George was the media darling. He spoke to Larry Bird about what it takes to be a superstar and go to the next level. He talked about that he was going to be that superstar. Well, although a good player, he has not been a superstar. He has not inspired teammates like Larry Bird has done.
    It sounds like I’m ragging on Paul George, but he is a young player, at that time, a one time All Star, and choked the 7th game in Miami. I’m just injecting a little reality into the hype. And, one more nugget of reality, Roy Hibbert was a 12 pt 8 rebound center when he got a max deal. He proved nothing except potential to be a great player. Reality is that the Pacers can play great defense and haven’t learned what it takes to be a champion, yet.

  8. amitpal says:

    Well there’s always next year.

  9. kevin says:

    Collison..fundamentally sound…really?..we talking about the same guy…comedy