With 1:29 left in the first quarter, Roy Hibbert took a seat.
The Heat, once again, took off.
By the time the mammoth center re-entered, in Game 6 of the 2012 second-round series, a seven-point Pacers lead had become a four-point deficit.
Indiana was down just two late in the third quarter when Hibbert got another brief break – and, in a 76-second span, the Heat rolled to an 8-0 run. Twelve minutes later, the game and series were over.
Yes, the Pacers, as a team, lost to the Heat last spring. Hibbert, technically, did not.
He was a plus-13 in that Game 6, while the Pacers were minus-38 without him. For the series, Indiana was plus-26 with Hibbert playing and minus-65 with him watching.
So what are the keys for the Heat this time around, as the teams face each other in the Eastern Conference finals that begin Wednesday?
Making Hibbert work.
Making Hibbert watch.
“He’s very disruptive back there, he’s big, he’s intelligent, he changes shots,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Carmelo Anthony can speak to all of that, after the 7-foot-2 Hibbert reached the sky to stuff the New York Knicks star on Saturday night. Hibbert averaged 37.5 minutes, 10.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks during that series.
The Heat, however, are better equipped to counter, frustrate and idle him.
It starts with Chris Bosh, the sweet-shooting center that the Knicks – with the limited Tyson Chandler – lack. That was an element that the Heat missed, after Bosh tore an abdominal muscle in the first half of Game 1 last May.
“His ability to shoot is a huge bonus for our team,” LeBron James said. “There’s not many 5s that can stretch to the 3-point line. I don’t know one besides Chris who can stretch every night, so it works wonders for our team.”
Bosh shot 53 percent from 16 to 23 feet this season, according to hoopdata.com, the best of any high-volume shooter in the NBA, of any size.
He recognizes his responsibility as “a weapon that a lot of teams don’t have.”
“It’s just doing what I’ve been doing for a while now,” Bosh said. “Catching and shooting, catching and going, just reading the situations, making it difficult.
“Because Hibbert is too good on defense. If you let him muck up the paint, and don’t give him anything to think about when you’re right next to him, you’re not doing your team any justice. I’m going to be moving around to different spots to try to confuse him a little bit, and see if he can be effective that way.”
There is empirical evidence of Bosh’s impact against Indiana during the teams’ three games this season, two of which Indiana won. The Pacers were actually much better with Hibbert off the floor (plus-40) than on (minus-31).
If Hibbert can’t stick with Bosh outside, that will force Frank Vogel to switch assignments, putting Hibbert on Udonis Haslem. If Shane Battier is in with Bosh, Vogel might need to move Hibbert to the bench.
How else can the Heat force Vogel’s hand?
By getting into Hibbert’s body.
While Spoelstra touted Hibbert’s strides in defending pick-and-rolls “without fouling,” only Toronto’s Amir Johnson and the Lakers’ Dwight Howard were whistled more this season. James and Dwyane Wade, in particular, need to go at him, rather than retreat from him.
Monday, Spoelstra drew the battle lines between the league’s best rim-protecting team and the league’s best paint-attacking team.
“Who’s gonna get to who?” Spoelstra asked. “And how do you get to that game? That’s the challenge. The pace and space of how we do things is critical. If we don’t get to that, we won’t get to the rim.”
Bosh’s presence helps there, too.
“Me (spreading the floor) allows them to do what they do a little bit more,” Bosh said of James and Wade. “We want to put Hibbert in very difficult situations, make him think about three or four things instead of just one. If we have him thinking about just one thing, which is the ball, he’s very, very good.”
Wade and James need to be very, very good.
And something else.
“Smart,” Wade said.
“You can’t take off from anywhere,” Wade said. “You’ve always got to be aware and know where he is.”
And know that he can’t swat a shot from a seat.