INDIANAPOLIS – Big Roy came up with a big answer for his critics and his teammates Wednesday night.
He played like an All-Star when the Pacers really needed it.
After 48 hours of questions and criticism, Roy Hibbert scored a season-high 28 points, grabbed nine rebounds, blocked two shots and altered a handful of others to help the Pacers get even in the Eastern Conference semifinals with an 86-82 victory over Washington.
Hibbert sounded more relieved than redeemed.
“David (West) always talks to me about being the person that rescues yourself when you're in the middle of the ocean,” Hibbert said after Indiana tied the best-of-seven series at 1-1. “There's nobody who can throw a lifesaver or a rope out to help you. So I had to do it myself.”
The next step is proving he can play this way again Friday when Washington plays host to Game 3.
Hibbert went into Wednesday with a combined total of 37 points and 24 rebounds in Indiana's first eight playoff games. Twice in the previous four he failed to score a point or grab a rebound.
Beleaguered Pacers fans wanted Hibbert benched. Frustrated teammates talked publicly and privately about needing more from their 7-foot-2 center. Critics turned Hibbert into the butt of jokes, and on the Internet, some even tried to explain Hibbert's incredible disappearing act with unseemly speculation.
After talking to his old college coach, John Thompson III, and Colts linebacker Robert Mathis, a close friend, Hibbert blocked out the inescapable firestorm, focused on basketball and fueled the decisive 6-0 run late in the fourth quarter.
It was enough to put repeated smiles on Hibbert's face, even if he considers it only a start.
“I just want to string a few games together,” he said. “Consistency hasn't been my biggest friend this year. I'm going to try to continue to play aggressive, and I'm going to try to control the things I can control. I can't control play calls, but I can control how hard I play, how fast I run down the court and how well I play defense.”
George Hill finished with 14 points, Paul George had 11 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Lance Stephenson added 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists. And for the first time this postseason, the Pacers held an opponent to fewer than nine 3-pointers. Washington finished 5 of 21 from behind the arc.
Much of the credit went to Hibbert, who helped open up the offensive lanes for his teammates and protected the rim well enough that Indiana could spread out and defend the perimeter.
“He's got our attention now,” Drew Gooden said. “We've got to be focused on guarding the Roy Hibbert we know.”
Marcin Gortat finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Bradley Beal had 17 points and Nene added 14.
Note: The Pacers made it official Wednesday: Andrew Bynum's season is over. Team officials said the oft-injured Bynum would miss the rest of the playoffs and would not even be with the team for the rest of the postseason.