MIAMI – When its the conference finals, everything is big. Roy Hibbert found that out this past weekend.
During Pacers’ shootaround on Monday at American Airlines Arena, the center was surrounded by media three-deep to ask questions about his “No Homo” comment he made following a Game Six win against the Heat.
It’s one that warranted a $75,000 fine by the NBA on Sunday and forced the center to issue an apology just hours after the remark.
“That’s all I’m going to comment on it,” said Hibbert to reporters after first referencing his release on Sunday. “I’m ready to play tonight. Game Seven, haven’t been in this position ever.”
Neither have a number of his teammates. In fact for the franchise itself, its the first time the team has played a game to advance to the NBA Finals since 2000. Such an opportunity was earned with a 14-point Game Six triumph over the Heat at home Saturday night, yet the seeds for this moment were planted long before.
“We talked about this moment since training camp,” said forward David West, who says he’s feeling much better after a bout with illness in Game Six.”We felt like we could get to the Finals and we felt like team we had to go through was Miami. So we’ve been preparing for this moment all year and it’s time for guys to step into this moment.”
Frank Vogel will be the one to lead them there in his first Game Seven as an NBA head coach. One potential issue could be the buzz around Hibbert’s post-Game Six comments, since the center’s four double-doubles against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals have been critical to the Pacers’ ability to push the series to the limit.
“We had a film session yesterday after we got to the hotel and we talked about it briefly with the intent purpose to put it behind us and focus on Game Seven today,” said Vogel about his discussion with Hibbert about the comments.
Of course the hoopla over that could disappear if the Pacers got into Miami and win a Game Seven against the Heat. Despite a 49-win season and two playoff series wins Indiana hasn’t been in the mainstream NBA discussion till they picked up a few wins over the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That has generally been the case for the team since the fallout from “The Brawl” in Detroit in 2004 force a major restructuring of the franchise a few years later as the franchise suffered through lean years as they rebuilt the roster. Retooled and reloaded in 2013, the Pacers feel that Monday night is a perfect opportunity to return to the national basketball conscious once and for all.
“This is the next step for us, to go to the Finals,” said forward Paul George of Game Seven’s meaning to the franchise. “It will be another opportunity for us to get shown on the national stage and hopefully on the national stage moving on.”