INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana’s Roy Hibbert had the perfect knockout combination Friday night.
On offense, he made all but two shots. On defense, he protected the rim. At the free-throw line, he couldn’t miss and no matter what the Bucks tried to stop the former All-Star center, nothing worked.
Hibbert finished with season-highs of 24 points and eight blocks and added 10 rebounds to lead unbeaten Indiana past Milwaukee 104-77 – the Pacers’ most lopsided rout in a 9-0 start.
We have expectations and we want to win, Hibbert said. We want to play deep, deep into the playoffs. You gain confidence with your teammates when we’re all on the same page and we all have one goal. Some guys on this team before were just trying to get a paycheck and go home and then chilling on the beach and sip mojitos or something like that. That’s not us.
Hibbert was referring to the teams he played on when he first arrived in Indy.
There’s no doubt that philosophy has changed. On Friday, the Pacers followed the same blue-collar script they’ve used to win their first nine.
Milwaukee had a season-low point total, finished well below its season average of 93.7 points, and shot just 34.1 percent against the league’s No. 1 defense. It’s the fourth time Indiana has held an opponent to 80 or fewer points this season and it’s the second time this week.
Now, after becoming the first team in the league to start 9-0 since Dallas in 2002-03, Indiana has a chance to reach even more milestones.
The defending Central Division champs head to Chicago today with a chance to become the 14th team in league history to go 10-0 and they can break the longest winning streak in the franchise’s NBA history. Indiana also won nine straight from Nov. 2-22 in 2002. Another win also would put them on the precipice of the longest winning streak in Pacers history (11), which stretches all the way back to 1972-73, when they were still in the ABA.
About the only bad move coach Frank Vogel made Friday was pulling Hibbert early rather than allowing him to try and become the second Pacers player this week to post a triple-double.
Hibbert, true to form, didn’t care. He’d rather beat Chicago anyway for the second time in 10 days and at least lock up a tie in the season series against their fiercest division rival.
Indiana’s top scorer Paul George finished with 22 points, 17 in the second half. Lance Stephenson had 11 points and four rebounds. Injury-riddled Milwaukee (2-6) has now dropped four straight. O.J. Mayo led the Bucks with 20 points, and his only teammates to reach double figures were Khris Middleton and Gary Neal, who each had 11.
They just didn’t have a chance against the league’s hottest team.