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Sports columns

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Center not fishing for answers now

– As the basketball world caved in on Roy Hibbert, what was he to do? How was he to answer?

On Monday, after the personal disaster that had been Game 1, he sat in Frank Vogel’s office for an hour, talking things through.

On Tuesday, he went fishing for two hours on Paul George’s boat. “We didn’t talk about basketball,” he would say in the glow of reclamation Wednesday night. “We talked about life and tried to catch some bass.

“He helped me out. He got my mind off things.”

On Wednesday morning, he came to morning shoot-around, lost mostly in his own thoughts and sense of mission.

“He probably said five words yesterday. We didn’t hear his voice today,” David West said. “I thought his body language was a little different.

“I think he just made up his mind that he was going to be a presence.”

And all those critics, coast to coast?

“He took,” West said, “about as much as he can take.”

And now Hibbert shouldn’t have to. Not after coming off a performance of being Kareem for a day, sky-hooking his way to 28 points, leading the Pacers to an 86-82 win over the Washington Wizards they absolutely had to have.

The Ferris Wheel of this baffling season keeps going ’round in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Pacers were dead. Now they’re alive.

They were in trouble against the Wizards. Now they’re tied.

The masses were ready to wave the white flag and make Hibbert the villain. Instead, they waved gold towels and chanted his name Wednesday night, one man holding up a sign: “In Big Dawg We Trust.”

But really, how many did?

Hibbert was a grim and glum non-entity. A national puzzle with no points in Game 1 and a vanishing act for weeks.

And now he has the weight of infamy off his shoulders. More than that, the weight of letting his team down. He could not hide the wisp of his smile when his fourth straight shot dropped in the second quarter.

He said he was more aggressive. He said he was more determined. His coach thought, so, too. Can that explain going 10 for 13?

“We didn’t call any more plays for Roy tonight than we have all series,” Vogel said. “That’s the remarkable thing. He just did it on his own. When you play with a certain level of force, the ball finds you.”

Sounds so simple. But it hasn’t been. This was a man in the eye of his own storm, looking for a way out, internalizing the arrows coming his way. This was self-redemption.

“I had to look to myself,” he said. “David (West) always talks to me about being the person that rescues yourself in the middle of the ocean. There’s nobody to throw a life raft or rope out to help you.

“I didn’t want to get into excuses. I started making a lot of excuses throughout the second half of the season and during the playoffs. So I decided to take it into my own hands and change it around.”

He wasn’t kidding. He had five points – five more than Monday – in the first 56 seconds.

As always, the Pacer with the firmest grasp of the moment was West, the Yoda of the Indiana locker room.

“It’s very hard particularly when you’re someone who’s so hard on himself,” he said. “He wants to be depended on. He wants to be counted on. I think sometimes it gets too heavy, the burden is too much. But that’s part of the responsibility of being a professional athlete.”

So the crisis is passed, at least for one game.

“This is just a start,” Hibbert said. “I just want to string some good games together. Consistency hasn’t been my biggest friend this year.”

The Internet is alive with the sound of the Pacers. They’re fractured, they’re feuding. Especially Hibbert and George. So the careless rumors go.

Now they’re fishing buddies. “I appreciate him reaching out,” Hibbert said of Tuesday’s boating excursion, “Because he didn’t have to do it.”

The series moves to Washington even at 1-1. What happens next with Hibbert? How could anyone possibly know?

“When he plays well, we’re a better team,” West said. “There’s no other way to put it.”

Yeah, we could tell Wednesday night.

Mike Lopresti is a freelance columnist. His columns appear periodically.