Very much looking forward to tonight’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat. I was tickled to see the Pacers hold serve in Game 6 on Saturday, my allegiance having by now fully swung to the underdogs’ side after seeing them battle gamely night after night against the defending champs.
That’s right. While everyone else (it seems) is wincing at the thought of a Pacers-Spurs final, that’s what I’m hoping for, as the Heat -- as remarkable and talented as they are, and as undeniably thrilling as LeBron James can be to watch -- have proven themselves to be a much too petulant bunch for me to get behind.
Being a Bobcats-for-now-soon-to-be-Hornets fan, I’m one of the many without a specific dog in this particular fight. I did live in Indiana during the Miller time ’90s, and so pulled for the Pacers then. But this team is far removed from that one, and that tug was only temporary for me. That said, this new bunch led by Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and Roy Hibbert has earned my respect over the last several weeks, and thus will I be rooting for the visitors tonight.
I mentioned the Heat’s tantrums and thus am suggesting my rooting for the Pacers has something to do with personality or character, insofar as those kinds of things can be perceived and understood from afar. Such an idea might sound odd following Hibbert’s news-making press conference following Game 6 in which he managed not only to utter one of George Carlin’s seven words you can never say on television, but also another, newer bit of slang that has been characterized a “gay slur” by most who have excitedly reported on it.
I’m not going to address the murky matter of whether or not Hibbert’s words were unequivocally offensive, nor whether or not the $75,000 fine levied by the NBA was justified. But I did want to share one thought about Hibbert and his personality, something I’d noticed well before the other night.
Many are talking about his comments in the press conference being “out of character,” but I’m recalling seeing Hibbert speak after games several times this season and witnessing his almost disarming frankness over and again. I’m remembering one post-game interview in particular that followed an Indiana victory over the Atlanta Hawks, a team they’d go on to knock out in the first round of the playoffs.
That game (from March 25) saw the Pacers build a whopping 28-point lead in the third quarter, then in the fourth quarter Indiana allowed the Hawks to get back within five before closing the game out. Even though Indiana was short-handed that night, Hibbert was basically livid in the post-game interview, talking in measured yet emotional terms about how the team couldn’t afford such letdowns with the playoffs approaching.
I liked hearing Hibbert talk about the game and his team’s performance in a non-standard, more meaningful way than we usually get from players in such spots. He has continued to say all of the right things -- including things one wouldn’t necessarily expect -- after games throughout the playoffs. Up until Saturday night, anyway.
I told Pauly about a week ago how Hibbert struck me as the anti-Dwight Howard, a consummate team player and effective leader who reminds me a little of former Pacers coach Larry Brown in the way he frequently seems to be putting the team first. When he’s not calling out reporters for voting him the 10th-best defensive player of the year, that is.
All of which is to say, I get that his words after Saturday’s game were somewhat “out of character.” However, to me they weren’t as completely shocking as other observers have been saying. I mean to the extent that Hibbert has never struck me as the kind of guy who sticks to the uncritical clichés and trite “player-speak.”
I like that Hibbert goes off-script, just like I like the way the Pacers have already added a couple of unexpected extra chapters to the predetermined story of Miami’s run to repeat.
I’m not wanting to apologize for Hibbert or explain anything away here, but just thought I’d share some thoughts about a player I’ve grown to like and root for both off and on the court. And to add I’ll be pulling for him and his team again tonight.
I think the Pacers will be battling uphill, especially if Dwayne Wade perks up and Chris Bosh returns from saving the multiverse to help LBJ. But they’ll definitely be battling. Indeed, when I first heard about Hibbert’s comments, I told Pauly I wondered if perhaps the big man might have been misheard. That Hibbert was in fact referring to the Pacers’ intention not to fold under the pressure of tonight’s Game 7, and reporters had failed to pick up on what he had said clearly...
Shamus is the author of the Hard-Boiled Poker blog.