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COLUMN

Hibbert, Pacers force Game 7 with authority

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For more on the Pacers, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

Indiana will travel to Miami for a Monday night showdown

Sunday, June 2, 2013 - 1:19 am

INDIANAPOLIS – After a night of domination on the court, Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert went to the postgame news conference and rejected a reporter's question into the third row.

He was asked how he felt about finishing 10th in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year. He didn't like it.

“Y'all (expletive deleteds) don't watch us play through the year, to tell you the truth,” Hibbert said. “That's fine. I'm going to be real with you. And I don't care if I get fined. You know what, we play, we're not on TV all the time, reporters are the ones that are voting. And it is what it is. And if I don't make it, that's fine. I'm still going to do what I have to do.”

Hibbert is going to do what he has to do. And I'm starting to believe there's nothing the Miami Heat can do to stop him.

Hibbert went for 24 points, 11 rebounds and one block in the Pacers' 91-77 win over the Heat on Saturday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The result is a 3-3 tie in the best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference finals and a Game 7 at 8:30 p.m. Monday in Miami.

The Pacers, and Hibbert in particular, stand in the way of the defending champion Heat's plans to return to the NBA Finals, where the San Antonio Spurs await.

I'm sure many Heat fans figure a home-court Game 7 will be enough to finish the job. Heat superstar LeBron James will get the calls in that game that he didn't in Game 6, especially on plays like the rising drive against Hibbert where he was called for charging, then sprinted to Carmel. I'm sure fans believe James' lackluster supporting cast will pick up the pace enough for a win. Chris Bosh might even make more than a cameo appearance.

But I'd be hesitant to bet against Hibbert and the Pacers now.

There's a brotherhood in this team that might be strong enough to go to Miami and pull off the upset. Consider how Paul George came back with another superb offensive show (28 points, eight rebounds, five assists). Consider how David West, despite a fever of 100-plus degrees earlier in the day, hit the boards for 14 rebounds. Consider how George Hill tossed aside his passive Game 5, scoring 16 points with six assists.

Most of all, consider Hibbert.

Where will Miami find an answer for Hibbert now, as he continues to gain momentum, confidence and swagger.

“Roy is playing the best basketball of his career right now,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He's leading us, and he's a big reason why we are where we are.”

Where's Miami's answer for Hibbert and his 7-foot-2, 280-pounds of (expletive deleted) force?

Bosh? He doesn't have the stomach for the job. Udonis Haslem? Not enough heft and too much whine. Chris “Birdman” Andersen? Same reasons as Haslem. Joel Anthony? The Heat have no one on their roster who can handle Hibbert when the Pacers feed him the ball. Shaq is not coming out of retirement.

But as much as I like Hibbert and his dominance on the court, it was a glimpse into his personality in the postgame of Game 6 that revealed what he means to the team.

No, not his salty language. The telling moment came earlier, when Hibbert was asked about the play that'll be replayed from now until Monday night. James, who finished with 29 points and earned every one of them, drove the lane. Hibbert went up to meet him. It looked like a blocking foul, as both players went high in the air. James was called for a charge, then ran a fly pattern with breakaway speed that Andrew Luck could use on Sundays this fall.

James got a technical foul. “I said absolutely nothing,” James said. “I ran down the court to get me away from the scene of the crime, I guess.”

Call or no call, Hibbert made another statement about the Pacers unwillingness to defer to King James or anyone else.

Hibbert said he wanted to be sure to have George's back on the play. If George, who has the unenviable assignment of guarding James, gets beat, Hibbert wants to come to the rescue. Hibbert said he felt he let George down by not helping him enough when James was posting George up frequently in Game 3. But perhaps this moment goes back further, to James' game-winning drive in Game 1 when second-guessers everywhere wondered why Hibbert wasn't on the floor with 2.2 seconds left.

“I wanted to be there for him,” Hibbert said of his Saturday night special stop. “(George) is the future. I mean, I think he has a chance to be MVP of the league next year.

“Every guard needs to have a big guy to have his back. So I'm that guy.”

George leaned over and gave Hibbert a pat on the back.

The Pacers seem to be getting tighter, as in a unit playing as one. The Heat seem to be getting tighter, as in feeling the pressure. Game 7 ought to be a great (expletive deleted) show.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.