WASHINGTON — Wizards center Marcin Gortat heard the question and waited several seconds before speaking. He took a deep breath. Cleared his throat.
Asked whether he anticipates seeing Indiana’s Roy Hibbert show the same sort of energy Friday night in Game 3 of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal that he did in an outcome-altering Game 2 performance, Gortat opted not to go there.
“I ain’t going to talk about him,” Gortat eventually said after practice Thursday. “Next question.”
And yet, all of a sudden, the Wizards were talking plenty about Hibbert, trying to figure out how to slow him down. His role in the best-of-seven series, tied at 1-all, sure changed quickly.
The 7-foot-2 All-Star shot 10 for 13 and finished with 28 points and nine rebounds in the Pacers’ 86-82 home victory Wednesday. In the first 56 seconds alone, he won the opening tip, hit a jumper from near the foul line as the shot clock expired, then turned in a three-point play for a 5-0 lead. Fittingly, the game ended with the basketball in Hibbert’s hands on a rebound.
“He started to run the court a little bit. We saw on film where he kind of outran all of us. That showed him wanting the ball,” Wizards guard Andre Miller said. “He wanted to win, and it kind of rubbed off on the rest of the team.”
In Game 1, Hibbert had zero points and zero rebounds, his second time in these playoffs with those stats.
The NBA, citing the Elias Sports Bureau, said Hibbert is the fifth player in league history to go from having no points in one postseason game to putting up at least 28 in the next.
“Definitely, that’s not what we expected,” Gortat said, relenting on the topic.
After all, Hibbert scored a total of 37 points in Indiana’s first eight playoff games, an average of 4.6.
“This is just a start,” Hibbert said after Game 2.
He’s aware that Washington will see what it can do differently against him. Wizards coach Randy Wittman spoke primarily about working to keep Hibbert away from the basket.
“I don’t expect to put up 28 points a game, but I expect to contribute,” Hibbert said. “I want to be a part of something on both ends.”
On Friday, he’ll be on the court where he played most of his college home games at Georgetown.
The Hoyas’ coach, John Thompson III, attended Game 2 — and another former Georgetown player, Wizards rookie forward Otto Porter, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the man known around these parts as JT3 played a role in Hibbert’s resurgence.
“He definitely knows how to motivate you. He probably said something to Roy to tick him off; he probably took it out on us,” Porter said with a smile. “At the same time, Roy is Roy. He (was) definitely going to get out of his slump and come to play in these playoffs.”
Setting aside Hibbert’s breakthrough, Wizards point guard John Wall called Game 2 “probably the worst game we’ve played in the playoffs” — and he might as well have dropped the word “probably.”
Washington made only 5 of 21 attempts on 3-pointers, hit 5 of 12 free throws, and did not have a single fast-break basket.
“We lost our pace from an offensive standpoint,” Wittman said, “and that hurts us in the long run.”
He and Wall both rued one particularly quick 3-pointer the guard missed instead of being patient and looking for a better shot while trailing by three with about 1½ minutes left.
“It almost felt like desperation on a couple of those possessions,” Wittman said.
Summing up the game, Wittman pointed to a theme echoed by his players: “We didn’t play as well as we’re capable of.”
Hibbert did, for once, and all eyes will be on him in Game 3.
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