No longer able to hide in the cornfields and away from the circus that surrounds popular teams, the Indiana Pacers will have days like this.
Days that begin with their star explaining why he felt compelled to squash wild rumors when he should only have to focus on the important matters, such as freeing himself from the claw of Trevor Ariza and leading his team back from a one-game deficit in its semifinal playoff round against the Washington Wizards.
But Wednesday morning, Paul George wanted to refute rumors of locker room discord by posting an Instagram picture of him, Roy Hibbert and George Hill looking happy and bonded after a day of fishing.
By late Wednesday night, the Pacers discovered an even better way to silence the storm: An 86-82 win over the Wizards.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” said George, who scored when absolutely necessary and finished with 11 points (5-of-13 shooting) to go with six rebounds and four assists, “but we knew we’d be able to come back and even this series up going to Washington.”
Hibbert responded to his critics with a 28-point, nine-rebound bounce-back performance from the zeroes he contributed in Game 1. With Hibbert at the focus of all things, the Pacers returned to a strong baseline of defensive effort — limiting the Wizards to four second-chance points, 23.8% shooting from three-point range and only a single fastbreak point. Hibbert finished with two blocks and earned the spotlight alone on the podium in the postgame, but knew he had help getting there.
“My teammates were great,” Hibbert said. “They had a lot of trust and I appreciate those guys a lot. In spite of whatever ups and downs I have, they always have my back.
“I just want to string some new games together. Consistency hasn’t been my biggest friend this year, so I’m going to try to continue to play aggressive. I’m going to try to control the things that I can control. I can’t control play calls. I can control how hard I play, how fast I run down the court, how I play defense and just try to be a team player.”