20130429-135523.jpgThis is what happens when you become the center of attention.

You bring a monocle to a press conference, everybody thinks you’re hilarious. You drop an MF-bomb and an offhand gay slur and all of a sudden you’re issuing apologies to the world.

Such is life these days for Roy Hibbert because the 7-2 center has played a critical role in helping the Pacers to within one victory of the NBA Finals. That game, that chance of a young lifetime, comes Monday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat in Miami.

“He’s playing the best basketball I’ve ever seen him play,” Frank Vogel said of Hibbert, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds in the Pacers’ electric 91-77 victory in Game 6 Saturday night.

There is absolutely no question about that. This was the fourth game of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in the series for Hibbert. In his other two he posted 19 and nine in Game 1 and 22 and six in Game 5.

He leads the Pacers in scoring (22.8), rebounding (10.8), field goal percentage (.547) and, of course, blocked shots (seven) in the series. All of a sudden, he’s underpaid.

His wallet most certainly will get a little lighter after the NBA docks him for his potty mouth after the game. Hibbert was not available to the media Sunday but did issue a statement of apology:

“I am apologizing for insensitive remarks made during the postgame press conference after our victory over Miami Saturday night. They were disrespectful and offensive and not a reflection of my personal views. I used a slang term that is not appropriate in any setting, private or public, and the language I used definitely has no place in a public forum, especially over live television. I apologize to those who I have offended, to our fans and to the Pacers’ organization. I sincerely have deep regret over my choice of words last night.”

Of course, the last thing the Pacers need at the moment is a distraction but it’s unlikely this will cause much, if any.

Vogel said he talked it out with Hibbert Sunday morning.

“He obviously made a great mistake,” Vogel said. “He’s very contrite, feels horribly about it. But I talked to him and just basically said we’ve got to move on from it. … I support him. I know he’s not that person to do something like that or use those words, you know, and that it was a mistake. He knows he’s wrong. I don’t have to tell him he’s wrong. He knows that. Just to understand we all love him, and we’re going to help him move past it very quickly.”

Though Paul George has been brilliant (averaging 21.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists) and David West has been his usual reliable self – even when struggling with a 100-degree fever and an upper respiratory infection – Hibbert has been the game-changer for the Pacers.

Miami’s offensive gameplan was to send Chris Bosh to the perimeter in an attempt to draw Hibbert away from the bucket. It hasn’t worked. In fact, it has backfired. Bosh has become Troy Murphy, while Hibbert has become Shaquille O’Neal.

When the Pacers needed a surge, Hibbert scored three times in a row, including a driving dunk to cap a 12-0 burst in the third quarter. When they needed a stop, there he was meeting LeBron James “at the mountaintop,” as the Miami superstar described it and drawing a critical charge.

James reacted so wildly to the questionable call he picked up a technical foul, as did assistant coach Dave Fizdale. George Hill made the free throws, Hibbert scored inside and all of a sudden it was 81-68 and Miami was done.

Make no mistake, Hibbert has been the king of the hill in this series, making it possible for this team of young upstarts to be on the verge of upsetting the defending champions, a team featuring four potential Hall of Famers.

And for that, there are no apologies.

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