Hibbert helps Pacers pull away from 76ers 103-91
INDIANAPOLIS — Roy Hibbert stepped up when the short-handed Indiana Pacers needed a lift on opening night.
Hibbert had 22 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks, leading the Pacers to a 103-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.
Indiana won its season opener for the fourth consecutive year, but this was the first one during that stretch without All-Star swingman Paul George, who is out after breaking his right leg in two places. The Pacers also played without two other starters, power forward David West (sprained right ankle) and guard George Hill (bruised left knee).
Hibbert led the way against the youthful 76ers, and then acted like it like it was no big deal. Coach Frank Vogel knew better.
“Obviously with so many of the other guys out of the lineup, we called his number a little bit more than normal,” Vogel said. “He played a physical brand of basketball. He was effective, obviously, when he got the ball.”
Hibbert was 6 of 8 from the field and 10 of 13 from the free-throw line. His presence in the middle also created space for his teammates.
Rodney Stuckey (16 points) and C.J. Miles (15 points), Indiana’s two biggest free-agent acquisitions, each made a strong first impression. Donald Sloan had 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and Chris Copeland finished with 11 points.
On defense, where Hibbert usually thrives, he was every bit as efficient. He helped shut down Nerlens Noel in his NBA debut.
With Hill and West expected to miss at least the next two games, Hibbert will try to carry the Pacers until they return.
“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 your ability,” he said. “Then everybody else will fall in line.”
The 7-foot-2 center scored the first four points in a key 16-6 third-quarter run that gave the Pacers a 78-67 lead.
Tony Wroten led the 76ers with 22 points. Noel had six points and 10 rebounds, making going 2 for 11 from the field. The No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft missed all of last season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
“I saw good things in both of those positions from time to time tonight,” coach Brett Brown said of Noel, who played both power forward and center.
76ers: Had 12 fouls in the first quarter, matching their field goal total. … Only one of six draft picks from June played Wednesday. K.J. McDaniels finished with two points in his debut. … Opened the game by outscoring Pacers 20-2 in paint and finished with a 48-32 advantage inside.
Pacers: George opened the night by thanking fans for their support as he tries to recover from his injury, and then promised to come back stronger than ever. … Finished the first quarter on 12-0 run to take a 26-24 lead. … Honored former coach Bobby “Slick” Leonard at halftime by rehanging a banner adding the words “Hall of Fame” to it. Larry Bird also presented Leonard with keys to a new Cadillac Escalade. … Hibbert was called for a technical foul after a brief scuffle with Malcolm Thomas late in the first half.
Philadelphia had a completely new opening lineup from last season, with Noel, Wroten, Christapher Johnson, Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson. Coupled with Indiana’s injuries and the free-agent departure of Lance Stephenson from the Pacers, each team had a lot of new lineups and combinations. Both coaches acknowledged the game was a bit ragged because of the changes and noted they are still experimenting with their players.
Philadelphia visits Milwaukee on Friday.
The Pacers host the Grizzlies on Friday in what will be a homecoming for three former Indiana prep stars — Mike Conley, Courtney Lee and Zach Randolph.
*Photo courtesy of Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images