In one of the most unlikely playoff performances you'll see, Roy Hibbert scored a season-high 28 points and added eight rebounds Wednesday to fuel the Indiana Pacers' 86-82 Game 2 win over the Washington Wizards. The Eastern Conference semifinal series is tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 on Friday.
• Roy Hibbert's basketball amnesia mercifully ends. A couple of interesting things have happened to the Pacers' much-maligned center over the last 48 hours. His 0-point, 0-rebound, five-foul effort in Game 1 dropped him into a dark pit of futility somewhere miles below rock bottom. Teammates angrily called him out after the game, some in private, some in public. Hibbert swore to be better. His team needed All-Star Hibbert, not Awful Hibbert and their Game 1 loss was their official breaking point. The Pacers had done everything they could to help Hibbert snap out of his funk the last two weeks, even going as far Wednesday to cut Andrew Bynum loose and remove him as a distraction. Indiana couldn't have spelled out the truth any clearer. Sink or swim, they were going down with Hibbert.
Whatever they did, it worked. Like really, really worked. Maybe it was lifting The Curse of Andrew Bynum. Maybe David West and Rasual Butler delivered the motivational speech of a lifetime in the Pacers' weight room. Maybe something finally clicked. Maybe it was the fishing trip Hibbert and Paul George went on together Tuesday (sorry, Internet rumors) to get their minds of basketball. Whatever it was, the results were mind-bogglingly good. In maybe the most improbable feat of the season, Hibbert scored a season-high 28 points against the Wizards -- that's 28 more than Tracy McGrady had, for those counting -- displaying an energy and prowess that seemingly appeared out of thin air.
Hibbert started the game on a personal 5-0 run, but Indy had been fooled by Hibbert's early fool's gold before. However, this time there was more. Hook shots, jumpers, putbacks and up-and-unders. He scored 17 points in the first half, scoring more in 15 minutes than he had in his last four games. He was active on defense, totaling two blocks, one goaltend and several other shot contests. And he grabbed eight rebounds after managing to play 18 minutes in Game 1 without a single one.
Unlike Hibbert's minor bounce-back performance in Game 7 against the Hawks, his showing in Game 2 against the Wizards felt more authentic. Overcelebrating a 13-point game is understandable when you've been as bad as Hibbert, but there was no fake encouragement of the Pacers center on Wednesday. He earned every applause after earning every boo the last few weeks. He shot 10-of-13 from the field and almost near mistake-free basketball, committing zero turnovers and going a pristine 8-of-8 from the line.
Indiana was all-in on Hibbert going into Game 2. They caught a card on the river to even the series.
• Bradley Beal continues to shine. I made the claim Wednesday that the Wizards' 20-year-old shooting guard has been the most underrated player of the postseason so far. I feel even better about that claim after Beal's sneaky-good game in the Wizards' Game 2 defeat.
Beal is now averaging 20.1 points in seven playoff games while shooting 45.4 percent from three-point range. But the second-year player is doing more than just score for Washington this postseason. In Game 2, he played 44 minutes, scoring 17 points (7-of-15 shooting) but also adding seven rebounds and five assists. Maybe most impressive of all, he helped fluster Lance Stephenson into a 3-of-12 performance, including 0-8 to start the night.
Unfortunately for the Wizards, Beal's strong showing in Game 2 couldn't compensate for the off night from his backcourt parner, John Wall. The All-Star scored just six points 2-of-13 shooting, leaving Washington's offense flat in the loss
• The bad news for the Pacers. While Indiana deserves to hold its head high for squaring its second-round series, it would be unwise to relax. The Pacers won Game 2 -- but in a totally unsustainable manner.
As TNT's Chris Webber correctly pointed out several times during Wednesday's telecast, Roy Hibbert is not, and has never been, a scorer. He's a 7-foot-2 rim protector that spotlights on offense and averages 10.8 points per game. But Frank Vogel and Indy's players decided to show their faith in Hibbert early and often in Game 2, feeding the struggling big man shot after shot. He rewarded them by making 76.9 percent of them, a number not sustainable by Hakeem, let alone Hibbert. The Pacers center had scored only 37 points in his last eight games -- scoring 28 in Game 2 was nothing short of a miracle.
There's also the fact that Indiana won despite Paul George and Stephenson combining to score 23 points on 8-of-26 shooting (30.7 percent). Part of that can be chalked up to the strong defense from Trevor Ariza and Beal, but Indy needs to win those matchups to prevail in this series. Finally, the team's inconsistent bench scored just 12 poins in Game 2, lowlighted by Evan Turner and Luis Scola combining for one.
Indy's offensive formula in Game 2 is unlikely to be duplicated, the defensive blueprint should be studied heavily. The Pacers held he Wizards to 82 points after giving up 102 the game before. For Indiana to get back on track, it needs to regain its defensive identity, which it began to find Wednesday.