As stat lines go, 13 points and seven rebounds aren’t numbers that typically send headline writers scrambling for a thesaurus to find synonyms for spectacular.
When those are the figures next to Roy Hibbert’s name, in a Game 7 that bore so much weight for the Pacers, they belong in neon.
Finally, the Big Dog barked. Finally, the Pacers looked like the Pacers. And finally, the Hawks looked like, well, the Hawks.
In beating the eighth seed 92-80 in the first home Game 7 in franchise NBA history Saturday night, the Pacers pushed aside the mismatches from hell and advanced to a second-round pairing against a much more talented but traditionally structured Washington team beginning Monday at 7 p.m. in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Where the Hawks’ spread offense mitigated Hibbert’s usefulness and limited his role through the first six games, his presence will be required in a large and meaningful way against the Wizards, whose big men tend to stay in and around the lane where they belong, not wandering the 3-point line.
That’s why his performance in Game 7 was so significant. The Pacers were good enough to beat the Hawks with four of the five starters contributing. They’ll need everybody against Washington, none more than Hibbert.
“At some point, I knew this game was coming,” said Ian Mahinmi, who bathed himself in honor taking over for Hibbert for much of the Atlanta series. “I’m very happy it happened tonight in such a big game.
“He came with the right energy from the start, very aggressive on the glass, controlling the paint, his hook was feeling good. That’s the Roy I know. That’s the Roy I’m used to. We need him at that level to go far this year and I have all trust in him that he’ll perform like that for the rest of the playoffs.”
There was much to like about the Pacers’ performance, including the smooth, unforced and well-timed 30 points from Paul George, his postseason career high. He also had 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the series. Lance Stephenson skated on the edge of control but never lost his balance and produced 19 points and 14 rebounds. George Hill scored 15 and David West, after carrying the offensive load in Game 6, turned to defense and blocked six shots.
But it was the defense that left Atlanta in a heap. The Hawks shot 30 percent for the game and were 11-of-44 from the 3-point line, converting just 25 percent of an NBA postseason record number of attempts. In recovering from a 3-2 deficit to win a series for the first time ever, the Pacers held the Hawks to 20 of 79 (.253) from the arc in the last two games.
“People make sacrifices. This team, nobody complained,” Hibbert said. “They went small, some guys didn’t play, some guys didn’t play as much as they wanted, some guys got benched, other guys stepped up. We’re a team and we sacrificed for the team.”
Hibbert had his best game in more than a month. In fact, he had his first good game in more than a month. He hadn’t scored more points since March 31 against San Antonio (15), hadn’t had more rebounds since March 21 against Chicago, hadn’t had more blocked shots (five) since Nov. 23 against Philadelphia.
“It was huge. It was huge,” said George of Hibbert’s impact. “Not only was he locked in because of the start he had offensively, but we know Roy. When Roy is locked in offensively, his defense is off the charts, that’s when he becomes special. I thought tonight he was very special for us which is great because everything he’s been going through, he stayed with it, he stayed positive.
“This next round against the Wizards is his round and it was good to see him get the confidence late in this series.”
Given the events of the past couple of months, it would be hazardous to proclaim Hibbert’s slump over, or to suggest all is suddenly right with the Pacers.
But at the very least, the team on the floor in Game 7 looked much more familiar.