He scored, rebounded, and blocked shots. The 7-foot-2 center even got mad after being shoved to the floor and went after Philadelphia’s Malcolm Thomas with a second-quarter chest bump.
That he got a technical foul didn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. On a night when Hibbert was the only returning starter from a year ago, the big guy let everyone know he intended to take care of business. And the seventh-year pro most certainly did that.
Hibbert’s game-high 22 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots helped the injury plagued Pacers get off to the desired start with a 103-91 victory over the 76ers before an announced sellout crowd of 18,165 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“It’s the first game, I’m not going to get too excited about it,” Hibbert said. “Coming into this locker room with that ‘W’ is a big positive.”
“He played a physical brand of basketball,” head coach Frank Vogel said. “He worked for position before he got the ball. … He was posting hard with physicality and trying to live in the paint. And he was effective obviously when he got the ball.”
Vogel admitted they called the center’s number more than usual, and Hibbert’s aggressiveness drew fouls and got the Pacers in the bonus situation quickly. He hit 10-of-13 foul shots out of Indiana’s 19-of-28.
And the “T” spoke volumes about his desire.
“Any time any of our guys get angry, get a little nasty, I think that’s good for our team,” Vogel said. “I was concerned he would get ejected, which would have been a very bad situation for us. We have to be smart about not putting ourselves in that situation, but I like us to play tough.”
Rodney Stuckey came off the bench to play point guard and spark the Pacers with aggressive drives to the rim and 10 points in the first half. Donald Sloan, one of the nervous starters, settled down and asserted himself at point guard in the third quarter to finish with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
“With the simple fact that we do have guys out, coach believes in me and he stuck with me,” Sloan said after his 13th career start in 105 NBA games. “Late in the year, who knows, we may need me again.”
Everybody else followed the lead of Hibbert, Sloan and Stuckey. Granted, the youthful 76ers are regarded as one of the NBA’s worst teams, but it’s not like they were the Washington Generals playing patsy to the Harlem Globetrotters. The Sixers led at halftime and were ahead by as many as 10 points early.
Vogel admitted the Pacers will need to play better team defense. But the Pacers took control in the second half, outscoring the 76ers 55-40.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game, but it was still a ‘W’ in the column,” said forward C.J. Miles, who also played nervous early and struggled to find his shot before finishing strong with 15 points. “We missed some open looks early that we were making in camp and in the preseason. It’s a positive that we were sharing the ball and getting stuff out of our play.”
The Pacers return home Friday against stronger competition, the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Guys are really trying to play for one another,” Sloan said.
And Roy Hibbert is definitely leading the way.
“It’s not necessarily taking all the shots, it’s just playing with force, trying to get offensive rebounds, trying to keep loose balls alive and playing defense to the best of our ability,” he said. “Then everybody else will fall in line.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.