INDIANAPOLIS (AP/WJLA) - Roy Hibbert broke out of his playoff funk with a season-best 28 points and nine rebounds, leading the Indiana Pacers to an 86-82 victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night that tied the Eastern Conference semifinals at 1-1.
It was a stark contrast to Hibbert's abysmal, scoreless showing in Monday night's loss - and most of this year's playoffs.
But after hearing 48 hours of constant criticism and continual questions, Hibbert responded with the kind of game Indiana desperately needed. He made his first four shots, dominated the middle and produced big basket after big basket.
Game 3 is Friday in Washington, where the atmosphere was electric as Wizards fans entered the Verizon Center to watch the game on the arena’s big screen.
Shirley Harris couldn’t hold back her excitement. She and her daughter Sheniqua have been season ticket holders for 13 years.
"I'm glad they are here...We just need them to go all the way. I believe they can do it," she said.
Luckily, everyone’s view managed to be close to courtside, since Washington was playing nearly 600 miles west in Indianapolis – so Wizards officials opened up their doors so diehard fans like Dominic Jenkins could watch their beloved team for free.
"This is big," he said. "This is big right here. They need to do this on a regular basis."
With a gigantic-sized screen as their television, Verizon Center was transformed into a giant living room, giving a whole new meaning to the term, “home game.”
Marcin Gortat had 21 points and Bradley Beal added 17 for the Wizards, and Washington took a 77-74 lead with 5:01 left in the game. Indiana scored six straight and never trailed again.
Washington had won all four of its previous road playoff games - three at Chicago and Monday night in Indy.
But Hibbert refused to let it happen again Wednesday.
He scored the first five points, blocked two shots and altered a handful of others on a night Indiana needed every contribution he could give.
Hibbert's one-handed dunk cut the deficit to one with 7:57 left, and it was a nifty stop-and-go layup that got the Pacers within 77-76 three minutes later. That basket ignited the decisive spurt.
Paul George's steal on the ensuing possession led to a George Hill layup that gave Indiana a 78-77 lead and Hibbert's inside presence opened the lane for George to drive for a two-handed dunk to give the Pacers an 80-77 lead.
All the Wizards could muster after that was an alley-oop layup by Gortat and a long 3-pointer from Beal that got the Wizards within 84-82 with 11 seconds to play.
But David West made two free throws and Hibbert, fittingly, grabbed the final rebound of the game to seal the win.
Hibbert, who had become the biggest target of jokesters and ex-NBA players, wasted no time trying to change his image. After finishing with no points and no rebounds for the second time in four playoff games, the 7-foot-2 All-Star opened the game with a 17-footer and a three-point play.
Washington survived that opening flurry, tying the score at 23 after one quarter, then taking the lead and holding it for most of the second.
The Wizards pulled out to a six-point lead early in the third, but Indiana used a 15-3 spurt to turn a 53-48 deficit into a 63-56 lead with 3:55 to go.
Washington steadily closed the gap, getting within 68-64 at the end of three, tying the score at 69 when Drew Gooden made 1 of 2 free throws with 9:56 to go and retaking a 71-69 the lead on Nene's 20-foot jumper with 9:10 left. The Wizards went up 77-74 on Beal's 15-foot pullup jumper with 5:01 to play, but Hibbert and George answered with the six straight points and the Pacers held on.