South Beach's finest aren't in a hole against the Indiana Pacers, but they're well on their way if they don't figure out how to solve their Hibbert problem.
Hibbert is averaging 22.8 points and 12 rebounds on 54.1 percent shooting from the field in the Eastern Conference Finals. After going for 23 and 12 in Game 4, he joined Dirk Nowitzki as the only two players in Miami's Big Three era to tally at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in three straight postseason games against the Heat.
See the problem?
The Heat grabbed just four rebounds the entire fourth quarter of Game 4 while the Pacers grabbed 16. Of those 16, Hibbert had three. He almost out-rebounded Miami on his own.
No one on the Heat has been able to combat Hibbert's low-post scoring either. Chris Bosh—who suffered a sprained ankle—put up just seven points on 1-of-6 shooting in Game 4, Chris Andersen didn't attempt a shot, and Udonis Haslem came back down to earth after an otherworldly performance in Game 3, scoring just six points.
LeBron James himself didn't even have an answer. He converted on just 8-of-18 from the field, including 4-of-11 from inside the arc. Unable to reach the rim as easily and frequently as he's accustomed to, he wasn't nearly as efficient as the Heat need him to be.
Hibbert has been hassling LeBron all series, though. Per ESPN.com, LeBron's shooting just 33 percent on drives when Hibbert is in the game compared to 83.3 percent when he's out.
Here's a quick breakdown of how LeBron has fared on drives with Hibbert on and off the court:
Not only is he shooting at a lower clip when Hibbert is on the floor, but he's forced to get rid of the ball more as well.
With the Heat knocking down just 33.8 percent of their treys for the series, the Pacers will live with Hibbert forcing the ball out of James' hands when he gets into the lane. Hell, the Heat could be burying 50-plus percent of their deep balls and the Pacers would welcome him kicking the rock out. Anything beats him having absolute control of the ball.
Going into the series, the Heat knew they were outmatched in size. No one expected them to win the battle on the glass—they finished dead last in rebounding during the regular season—or even in the paint. They were supposed to overpower Indiana with their offense. That would be enough to advance through to the Eastern Conference Finals.
It hasn't been. And not even LeBron has been able to cloak their Hibbert issues any further. Since he put in a game-winning layup in Game 1, Hibbert's value to the Pacers has been more than apparent. It has left the Heat fighting for their season in what is now a best-of-three series.
But the number of games remaining or the wins Miami needs is almost irrelevant. These next two victories aren't going to come easily—or at all—if it can't find a way around its 7'2" Achilles' heel.
How are they going to do that? Effort.
"We can't afford to get beat on the glass by 20 [rebounds]. Can't happen," James said, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. "As a collective group, we can't allow that."
James offered no complex solutions to the Heat's rebounding problems, to their Hibbert quandary, because there aren't any. It's about will.
Getting out-rebounded in Game 4 by 19 (49-30) is an issue, but it's not the only issue. And it's not even the biggest. Their greatest pitfall has been their effort. They've submitted to Indiana's will on a number of occasions. And it shows.
Hibbert is averaging more offensive rebounds per game (6.5) in the series than defensive (5.5). Although he's difficult to box out, the Heat need to be more aggressive on the defensive glass. There's no excuse for allowing one player to average that many offensive boards. None.
These Pacers play a physical style of basketball, and Miami is letting them. Save for James, no one is putting forth a consistently fervid effort under the basket. Not on the glass. Not on Hibbert.
It's time for a change.
Miami's issues with Hibbert are never going to completely be dismissed. He's always going to be a hindrance in the lane, on the glass and in the paint in general. The Heat are not built to remove him entirely.
They are, however, capable of not making it easy on him.
Eliminating their shortcomings on the defensive glass is a must. Playing Hibbert just as physical as he's playing them is a necessity. Forcing the ball down his throat in an attempt goad him into foul trouble is as well.
Continuing to fight Hibbert rather than concede to his presence is what it's going to take. And we know the Heat can do it. We saw it in Game 3. They sent him to the line 15 times, but held him to just 4-of-12 shooting in the process. James didn't get rid of the ball so easily when he entered the paint.
Miami forced Hibbert to work. He had to earn every one of his 20 points, seven offensive rebounds and two blocks.
"We have to overcome it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said following Miami's Game 4 loss, according to Brian Windhorst. "We have to do better. It's going to take a collective effort when you have bigs like that."
Not stopping Hibbert entirely (they can't), but rising above him. Only then will the Heat recapture the momentum they seem to have lost.
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, NBA.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise attributed.
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