Orlando is learning, quite the hard way, the nature of Indiana's beasts.
After David West torched them for 37 points and 20 rebounds in the first two games of the series, Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy threw everything he had at the Indiana power forward in Game 3. He opened the game with quick double-teams to give undersized defender Ryan Anderson as much help as possible, and then switched assignments, putting Glen "Big Baby" Davis on West.
It worked, sort of. West scored just four points. The problem was, there was nobody left to defend 7-2 center Roy Hibbert, who scored 12 of his 18 points in the third quarter when the Pacers blew open the game with a 19-5 run and cruised to a 97-74 victory to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"Thats why I keep preaching to my team all year, this isnt just one defensive big guy and one offensive big guy, weve got two horses," Indiana Coach Frank Vogel said. "Thats what we talk about with our starting lineup. And thats not to mention our wings and point guards that can post as well. If they try to put Ryan Anderson on Roy (Hibbert) well go to Roy (Hibbert). If they put Glen Davis on Roy (Hibbert), well attack the better matchup."
Heading into the series, Indiana Vogel said Hibbert's primary responsibility would be to protect the rim, not score in the low post. West would be the main threat inside.
Through two games, that's how things worked out, as West got rolling offensively while Hibbert blocked 11 shots and pulled 26 rebounds -- while scoring just 12 points. Hence Van Gundy's focus.
"They just didn't allow me any free catches but I'm not going to force it, move the ball around, we've got weapons on the backside, guys did a good job hitting shots and then Roy really played well in terms of just settling down," West said. "I thought he did a good job on the boards, as well, keeping some balls alive for us. He just made plays."
That all changed in the third quarter. With Anderson attempting to guard him straight-up, Hibbert went to work, scoring eight points in the run that blew it open, including a resounding dunk that put the Pacers up 76-53.
"Luckily, a couple shots for me fell tonight," said Hibbert, who shot 5 of 16 in the first two games but was 8 of 10 Wednesday. "D-West, he's one of the reasons I got off tonight because he's been doing so much damage they switched Big Baby onto him so they put a smaller defender on me and I was able to thankfully knock some shots down that I didn't make the past two games."
Oddly enough, West was the only Indiana starter that did not score in double figures. Danny Granger took full advantage of the space created by Orlando's attention to the post tandem to score 26 points, making as many 3-pointers (five) as all of the Magic combined. George Hill scored 15 and Paul George 12.
Though West is the more polished scorer, getting Hibbert in the offensive flow is integral to the team's postseason hopes.
"It means a lot," Hill said. "He's an All-Star and we rely on him a lot on both ends, not just offensively but defensively. I think Roy's been doing great all series long, really not dwelling on himself because he's not scoring possibly like he wanted to score, but on the defensive end he's impacting the game more than anybody can imagine. We always tell him the points are going to come but on the defensive end they can never leave and tonight he showed he can impact the game both ways."
Just what Van Gundy has in mind for Game 4 will be revealed when the teams convene in Amway Center on Saturday but the problem for the Orlando coach is limited options. With Howard out, the first big man off the bench has been Earl Clark. Perhaps some meaningful minutes for 6-10 rookie Daniel Orton are in the offing.
"That's a hard matchup for them," George said. "We'd be beating ourselves if we shied away from going to those two."