While Paul George's ability to match LeBron James' output on the offensive end is crucial to the Indiana Pacers' chances of taking out the Miami Heat and advancing to the NBA Finals this summer, Roy Hibbert's play around the rim is the biggest key of all for Frank Vogel's squad.
You can't turn on the television without hearing someone second-guessing Vogel and his decision to leave Hibbert on the bench at the end of Game 1.
And while it is far too late to ask "what if?" there's definitely a strong case to be made as to why Hibbert should have been in the game. Either way, you can bet he'll be standing tall in the paint if Indiana finds itself in a similar situation down the road.
A Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2012-13, Hibbert has emerged as one of the top interior defenders in the game today. While his offensive game is still developing, Hibbert's shot-blocking and rebounding prowess has made him a key player for Indiana.
Now, those attributes make him the key to a potential NBA Finals berth.
In their Eastern Conference finals series with the Heat, the Pacers will need to call upon Hibbert more often on both ends of the court. The reason is simple. Miami doesn't possess a post scorer or defender who can score on Hibbert or consistently stop him from scoring.
Establishing Hibbert early on the offensive end is a great way to get the big fella going and to perhaps put Miami in early foul trouble.
Plus, if Hibbert is involved in the offense, it's nearly impossible for him not to be on the defensive end. In addition to averaging 14.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game this postseason, Hibbert is averaging 2.5 blocked shots per game in these playoffs.
He blocked 19 shots in six games against the New York Knicks in the conference semifinals.
There's definitely no questioning Hibbert's effort out on the floor either. A poor stretch of play on offense isn't going to make him invisible on defense.
Which area must Roy Hibbert impact most vs. the Heat?
Therefore, Hibbert's performance around the rim, both offensively and defensively will be pivotal for the Pacers the rest of the way against the Heat. While Chris Bosh's perimeter-oriented game can give Hibbert trouble, Bosh has no answers for Indiana's big man on the other end.
The former Georgetown star is the one player who can exploit Miami's seemingly one and only weakness. After all, without Hibbert on board, the Pacers wouldn't have ranked first and second in the NBA in rebounds (45.9 per game) and points allowed (90.7 per game) respectively this past regular season.
Roy Hibbert scored 19 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field and picked up nine rebounds in Wednesday's gut-wrenching Game 1 loss in South Beach. And considering the question being asked is how Indiana blew what should have been a series-opening victory, that level of production from the fifth-year center is enough to power the Pacers past the Heat.
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