Regardless of what happens from here with the Pacers and the top seed in the East, the Heat has to feel better knowing they've found a way to slow Roy Hibbert down.
Udonis Haslem is six inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than the 7-foot, 2-inch, 278-pound center. But Haslem has proven to be Hibbert's kryptonite in the Heat’s last six quarters against the Pacers, an encouraging sign for the Heat considering how Hibbert has long been a pain to deal with.
On the night he moved past Alonzo Mourning to become the franchise's all-time leader in offensive rebounds, Haslem was as big a reason as any why Miami is now in the driver's seat for the top spot in the East following a 98-86 victory Friday night at American Airlines Arena.
Haslem finished with 11 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes — and his fingerprints were everywhere. The Heat's co-captain burned his elbows and knees diving for loose balls, taking charges, following missed shots with tip-in baskets, and most importantly, holding Hibbert without a rebound or even a field goal attempt over 16 tense minutes in a tight first half. And he did all that after spending the last few days battling the stomach flu.
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"My personal inspiration as a coach,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I love looking at his photo in my office. It's him getting ready for battle, and he just has this look of intensity, this playoff intensity. These are the type of games where he brings what's necessary.
“He set the tone with full court, full body knee burns, everything to come up with the ball to show us how important it is to us. I can't speak enough about the physicality and leadership he brings to this team."
Hibbert, guarded by Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen for most of the second half Friday, finished with five points and one rebound over 34 minutes. He finally put the ball through the hoop with 4:07 remaining in the third quarter when he was freed up for a wide-open dunk. Haslem was on the bench resting when it happen.
"We got a good rhythm for him," Bosh said of Hibbert, who came in averaging 20.6 points and 8.4 rebounds against the Heat since the start of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. "Before we were allowing him to get too many easy dunks and layups. It got him going. He started hitting turnaround jumpers. It got him in a rhythm. But tonight we were able to stay between him and the basket, make his catches in the paint tough. We played five man defense."
Haslem's defense was huge Friday, but so was what he provided on the offensive end with hustle and grit.
After hitting a free throw to tie the score at 36 — the sixth tie of the first half, Haslem missed his ensuing shot from the line and then battle on the floor for a loose ball to retain possession. He flipped it out to Mario Chalmers who eventually hit a runner to give the Heat the lead.
Two minutes later, Haslem hit an 18-foot jumper to break the seventh and final tie of the game. Seconds later, Haslem drew a charge on Lance Stephenson. Haslem then had a pair of tip-in baskets during the Heat's 16-0 run to open the second half.
Big nights against Indiana for Haslem are nothing new. He had 17 points and seven rebounds in an important Game 3 win in Indiana last year, and then 16 points and three rebounds in a Game 5 win at home.
Haslem has only scored in double digits four times this season and there have been stretches where he's hardly played. But since March 19, he's started nine of his last 11 games and is averaging seven points and six rebounds.