Definition of a winner: A guy who gets his nose broken (as he is called for a foul), retreats to the locker room, has the trainer stuff cotton up his nostrils, breathes through his mouth the rest of the evening and then makes the big plays down the stretch.
For all the breathtaking moments we’ve already seen at the Staples Center through the first 4 weeks of the NBA season, what Roy Hibbert did Sunday night for the Indiana Pacers ranks right up there, quality wise, with any of Blake Griffin’s dunks, Chris Paul’s passes or Kobe Bryant’s scoring outbursts.
In the only game played Sunday night, the Indiana Pacers justified their high power ranking and improved their already-impressive record to 11-4 by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 98-96 behind a heroic effort from Hibbert.
“They didn’t want me to come back out, but I told them I’m going to no matter what,” said Hibbert, who was still bleeding after coming out of the showers. “So if I got hit again, that’s fine. I could always get cosmetic surgery at the end of the season to fix it. I’m a tough player, and I just wanted to play through it and make sure we got this win. This game was really important to us.”
Hibbert scored eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter as Indiana moved into a tie with Orlando for the NBA’s third-best record. The Pacers are a half-game ahead of the mighty Miami Heat, who didn’t look quite as mighty as they’d been looking over the previous week as they fell to Brandon Jennings and the Milwaukee Bucks 91-82.
The rest of the slate was predictable, with the Raptors, Bobcats and Wizards all losing. (Can we re-open the contraction debate?).
Indiana’s victory dropped the Lakers’ record to 10-8, which means the sky is falling through the smog in Los Angeles and the Santa Monica pier is crumbling into the ocean.
From Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: “The Lakers have now failed to score 100 points in 11 consecutive games, their worst skid since doing it 12 times in the 2003-04 season. There are plenty of theories why the Lakers can no longer score. They’ve played more games than everybody except Chicago (also 18). They’re still adjusting to coach Mike Brown’s offense after six previous seasons of the triangle. Or maybe they’re simply a slightly above-average team. Kobe Bryant, naturally, didn’t choose the third option. “We’ve had a loaded schedule here to start, so hopefully that had something to do with our poor shooting,” he said. “I think some of the guys just need time off just to get their legs back.”
Bryant had 33 points but needed 30 shots to get there, making 14. He was 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter. The Lakers shot 41.9 percent as a team. Pau Gasol continued to shrink statistically, handing out an impressive 10 assists but scoring only eight points for the second time in four games. He made four of 12 shots. “I did notice that he’s out on the floor … a lot further away from the basket,” said former Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw, in his first season as the Pacers’ associate head coach. “If you have the two big guys, that’s always been the strength of this team. You want your biggest guys closest to the basket. Sometimes Pau is out around the three-point line, so I think maybe it’s just going to take him a little time to get adjusted to the new places he is on the floor.”
The Bucks, meanwhile, had been bloody awful on the road through the first four weeks, and the schedule maker handed them a doozy of a week: Heat, Hawks, Rockets, Bulls, Lakers.
But they have a point guard who has injected himself into the Most Improved Player award debate, and a coach who is savvy and smart.
Scott Skiles figured the only way to have a chance against Miami was to do whatever was necessary to slow the pace and keep the NBA’s highest scoring team from getting out in transition. The strategy worked, as Milwaukee survived its own 35 percent shooting by dictating the tempo of the game and holding the Heat to a mere nine assists. It was the first time Miami lost this season in seven games without Dwyane Wade, who was out again with a sprained right ankle.
From Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: “The Heat was averaging 107 points through its first 15 games. But the Bucks held Miami to just 25 baskets and 37.3 percent shooting and helped force 22 Heat turnovers. Milwaukee (6-9), winless in its first eight road games, completed a sweep of its two-game trip after winning in New York on Friday night. “In the last two games we’ve looked much more like ourselves defensively,” coach Scott Skiles said. “You don’t win many games when you shoot 35 percent like we did, and it’s not that often somebody is going to keep the Heat in the 80s. The guys the last couple games have really been focusing in on that end. And if we keep that up we’ll be fine, we’ll be in good shape.” Miami (11-5) was playing its second game in less than 24 hours after pounding Philadelphia by 21 points on Saturday night. And the Heat relied heavily on LeBron James (28 points) and Chris Bosh (23 points), who combined for 51 of the team’s total. Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, healthy again after missing 11 games due to right knee tendinitis, took turns guarding both players. And the Bucks were able to throw three defenders – Mbah a Moute, Carlos Delfino and Stephen Jackson – at James. “The key to winning this game was to keep their numbers down,” Mbah a Moute said. “This team is very dangerous. That’s what I do, come in here and give this team that defensive boost. It feels good to get in there and get two wins in my first games back.”
Elsewhere Sunday in the NBA:
- Rajon Rondo was out with a sprained wrist, and Ray Allen left in the first half after jamming his left ankle. That left the scoring responsibilities to Paul Pierce, who responded with a season-high 34 points and 10 assists (he had scored 20 points total in the previous two games) in a 100-94 victory over the Wizards. After Boston blew all of a 15-point third-quarter lead, Pierce scored their next 10.
- The Nets scheduled an afternoon game in the unlikely event that the Giants would be playing in the NFL championship game later that same day, and it was a double “Yee-Haw” for folks in Jersey as Deron Williams finished one rebound shy of a triple-double in a 92-82 victory over Charlotte. MarShon Brooks (20 points) won the rookie battle over Kemba Walker (16 points).
- Chris Paul (hamstring) missed his fifth straight game, so Mo Williams took over as the pacesetter and scored the Clippers’ first 17 points of the fourth quarter in a 103-91 home victory over Toronto. Williams has scored at least 25 in three straight games. The Raptors, who have failed to reach 100 points in 16 straight games, missed their first 15 shots.