Indiana Pacers center 7'2" center Roy Hibbert was largely ineffective through most of the first round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, but he started and finished the deciding game seven 92-80 Pacer win Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Big Roy scored 13 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked five shots as the Pacers finally made the Hawks pay for their smaller lineup.
“We made things really tough for them,” said Hibbert. “They’ve got good players, but having the experience, having gone through a game seven, we know what it takes to get the win. I guess it propelled us to close the series out.”
Many media and fans wanted Pacers head coach Frank Vogel to sit Hibbert in this series and go with a smaller lineup. Hibbert started every game, but his minutes dwindled as the series moved along and he was usually watching from the bench in the fourth quarter. Hibbert got off to a good start with eight points in the first quarter of game seven and the Fieldhouse crowd got behind him.
“It was huge,” said Pacers forward Paul George, who scored a playoff career high 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. “Not only was he locked in because of the start he had offensively, but we know Roy. When Roy’s locked in offensively, his defense is off the charts. That’s when he becomes special. I thought tonight he was very special for us.”
“We definitely had to get his confidence up,” said Lance Stephenson, who added 19 points and 14 rebounds. “He protected the rim well today. He hit his hook shots. That’s the big dog I know.”
Hibbert’s early success allowed the Pacers to stick with their bigger starting lineup for the majority of the game. Every starter played over 30 minutes, and all scored in double figures except David West, who still contributed with 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Ian Mahinmi relieved Hibbert for almost 14 minutes off the bench. One game after Mike Scott dunked in his face, Mahinmi came back with a huge block on Jeff Teague to end the first half. The Pacers big men returned in game seven. Hibbert and Mahinmi combined to limit Hawks forward Paul Millsap to 15 points on 6-of-21 shooting.
“The bigs came back,” said Mahinmi. “It’s definitely a good thing to see Roy playing that way. He’s been searching for a minute now, so I’m very happy for him. He needs to keep that feeling that he had and build on it.”
Hibbert will try to build on his game seven performance when the Pacers open the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Washington Wizards. Game one is Monday and game two is Wednesday, both at the Fieldhouse.