Mutombo appeared on ESPN's First Take, and he had plenty to say about Hibbert's perplexing disappearance in the postseason. He started with a plea on behalf of the embattled big man, saying, "I want you guys to be nice to my boy."
That was necessary because not everyone has been particularly kind to poor No. 55.
The connection between Mutombo and Hibbert goes beyond their shared height and shot-blocking prowess. They both hail from a long line of Georgetown centers, along with greats such as Alonzo Mourning and Patrick Ewing.
So when Hibbert takes heat for his horrendous postseason performance, Mutombo feels it right along with him. "His performance is not what everyone expected it to be, and I think it's a little bit disappointing to us as a family," he said.
Others have been more direct in their criticisms.
Mutombo also discussed the frightening frequency of Hibbert's statistical goose eggs. Indy's big man went scoreless in Games 5 and 6 against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, then did the same in Game 1 against the Washington Wizards.
"For him to go scoreless, I don't remember the last time I saw something like this in the playoffs. It's very shocking," Mutombo said. "We all need to talk to him. He might need some insight from us. ... We've been there."
Maybe Mutombo, Mourning and Ewing orchestrated an intervention before Game 2. What else could possibly explain the startling revival the Pacers center underwent?
Roy Hibbert is snapping out of his slump in a BIG way. Hibbert has 24 points (8-11 FG) through 3 quarters. Pacers lead Wizards by 4.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 8, 2014
Hibbert was a changed man in the contest, knocking down shots early and often, defending the paint more effectively than he had in weeks and generally looking much more like the dominant presence he once was. He played his best game of the postseason, and the Pacers notched a desperately needed 86-82 win to even the series.
Roy Hibbert leads Pacers to win over Wizards in Game 2. Hibbert: 28 Pts (10-13 FG), 9 Reb, Indiana evens series at 1. pic.twitter.com/OFv0B7z4cB— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 8, 2014
The response at Bankers Life Fieldhouse reinforced the sympathetic tone of Mutombo's critiques.
Midwesterners are nice. They give Roy Hibbert a standing ovation while checking out— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) May 7, 2014
Despite his disappearance in recent weeks, Hibbert still has loads of supporters.
And if it wasn't a sit-down chat with Mutombo that straightened Hibbert out, maybe it was the subtraction of a notorious locker-room poisoner.
Andrew Bynum has left the Indiana Pacers, team says. Knee issue never resolved and he'll no longer be with Pacers in playoffs.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 7, 2014
Hibbert wouldn't be the first guy to perform better without Andrew Bynum around, and we know for certain he was a whole lot more effective before Mr. Damaged Goods showed up in Indiana.
Before Bynum signing, Hibbert had the Pacers’ best net rating at +13.2 points per 100 possessions. After, Roy was a -0.1 per 100. I mean...— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) May 7, 2014
Mutombo's last key line of the interview is the one that resonates with the most truth. He said: "His teammates need him. Indiana will not pass the Washington Wizards if Hibbert doesn't show up. That's the bottom line. We have to tell the truth."
If Hibbert's Game 2 resurrection is real, the Pacers won't be completely out of the woods. The issues with this team are bigger than any one player, and it's going to take a full offseason of soul-searching and maybe even some group therapy to sort out the mess that developed after the All-Star break.
But, boy, would Indiana like to see the league's most impactful defender back at full strength. Paul George is the Pacers' superstar, but Hibbert is its foundation, its key defensive cog. If he finds his stride, everything else—the chemistry issues, the broken offense and the missing confidence—might follow behind.
Mutombo's voice is a powerful force, and not just because it sounds like gravel spinning around in a Cuisinart set to puree. Apparently, it can effect real change.