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May 8, 2014

LOPRESTI: Inconsistent Pacers need Game 3

INDIANAPOLIS — Here the Indiana Pacers are again, having dodged another crisis. What is it about this team that it needs a state of emergency — its figurative hair on fire — to find its way?

They lose Game 1, win Game 2. So now what happens Friday in Game 3 in Washington against the Wizards? Times being what they are, no one could possibly have any idea.

“We just don’t have the same consistency we had to start the season off,” Paul George said. “Which is frustrating. We’re digging ourselves into holes at the wrong time. This is when we’ve got to play the most consistent basketball of our season.”

Consistent? The Pacers? Are you kidding?

Which brings us to Roy Hibbert. The very face of Indiana’s wandering ways.

He’s back. Maybe. More data is needed. But we must assume the world is a brighter place for him at the moment.

As the criticism caved in on him, 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 a day later, in the glow of reclamation. “We talked about life, and tried to catch some bass.

“He got my mind off things.”

On Wednesday before the game, he was 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 boos, coast to coast?

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

And now he 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 a win they absolutely had to have.

So the Ferris Wheel of this baffling season keeps going round.

The Pacers were dead. Now they’re alive.

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

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 teammates down.

“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. This was a night of self-redemption. Friday, he’ll be seeking another.

“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.”

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 Wednesday was nice. But what about Friday?

“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.”

In truth, the Wizards missed a lot makeable shots Wednesday they likely won’t miss again at home. Indiana will probably need more than 11 points from George and better than 3-for-12 shooting from Lance Stephenson. And that 18-5 Pacers’ free throw advantage likely won’t happen in the Verizon Center, either.

But why is it, the conversation lately always come back to Hibbert?

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

So we’ve noticed.

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