For about 24 minutes tonight, most people who watched the Indiana Pacers play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against the Washington Wizards saw Roy Hibbert get schooled by the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat. Hibbert finished the first half with three points and was all but a non-factor, struggling mightily in the paint. Gortat was everywhere, making life difficult for Hibbert with every shot at the rim. His only points came from free throws, starting the game 0-of-5 from the field.
But, as championship-caliber players often do, Hibbert made adjustments and the second half told a much different tale than the initial one. Hibbert scored the first six points of the third quarter for the blue and gold and finished the period with 10 points before getting into foul trouble for some seemingly ticky-tack fouls. Nonetheless, by the time the third quarter was finished, the Pacers had the game readily in hand by 13 points.
Indiana went on to beat down the Wizards by 20 points, 93-73, with very inspired defense and some amazing play by Lance Stephenson. There was a particularly nasty moment in the fourth quarter when Stephenson, from the free-throw line extended, sent a no-look, behind-the-back pass to C.J. Watson standing in the corner for an open three. It was perhaps the highlight of the game.
Stephenson finished with a double-double of 11 rebounds and 10 assists. When asked about why he pulled Stephenson with three minutes remaining in the game, coach Frank Vogel said he didn’t want Stephenson to get a triple-double the “wrong way,” alluding to his eight turnovers, which was over half of the team’s total. Despite the turnovers the Pacers played another solid game and finished the homestand with a very impressive win over an up-and-coming Wizards team. John Wall’s almost 19 points per game were not a factor as the Pacers locked him down for only eight points and nine assists.
The war against Gortat netted Roy Hibbert 13 points and 8 boards in a night when he struggled a little, but was very solid in the third quarter when this contest was really decided. Paul George scored his average of 23 points and overall the team played very well in a situation in which they could have found themselves looking ahead to the Los Angeles Clippers.
So, now they can look ahead because it’s the next game. In 36 hours the blue and gold will be playing one of the best teams in the league at the start of a grueling five-game West Coast road trip. It starts with the Clips, continues with Portland on Monday, then on to Utah, San Antonio on Saturday and Oklahoma City on Sunday, December 8th. Pretty amazing stretch for the Pacers, and it will really provide an interesting glimpse into what this team is made of.
The Pacers are now 15-1 with a full seven-game lead in the Central Division. They can savor the league’s best record for a few hours, then it’s back to work. All eyes will be on Indiana this next week during this road stretch. Let’s hope they can solidify their stranglehold on the Eastern Conference.