George leads Pacers past Magic
by Candace Buckner, USA TODAY Sports
INDIANAPOLIS — The last time the Indiana Pacers played in front of a packed Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the building could have collapsed from all the noise.
On that summer night, the hopes of a reclaimed fan base carried the Pacers to a win over the reigning champion Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, and fans swaggered onto Pennsylvania Street with the delirious delight that the impossible could happen.
Months would pass after a Game 7 loss in Miami; new players would fill the roster but the hype remained at a consistently high clip.
Tuesday, the Pacers returned to the scene with a season-opening 97-87 win against the Orlando Magic. The only temporary discouraging sight for this sellout crowd was center Roy Hibbert leaving the game after landing awkwardly and grimacing while on the floor.
Hibbert was OK, but he walked to the bench with 5:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, wishing to stay on the court a while longer. Hibbert, much like his teammates, found himself immersed in the adoration of an announced crowd of 18,165 which, despite sometimes shaky play, carried him to a dominating performance of 7 blocks, 16 rebounds and 8 points.
“Just imagine if I kept playing,” Hibbert joked under his breath after hearing a reporter announce his stat line.
“I’m good. I’m playing (Wednesday). I was just running down the court on defense and the floor was a little slippery. My knee buckled a little bit. I actually didn’t want to come out the game. But the trainers felt — we were up by 18 at that point — there was no real point forcing the issue.”
Game No. 1 felt so good to the Pacers, that Hibbert felt the need to ask forgiveness for not being able to drink it all up.
“It was one of those things where it stings a little bit, then you get back up,” he said. “I’m happy nothing happened. I really wanted to get back out there and finish the game, especially the home opener in front of a sold-out crowd. So, I apologize to everybody.”
Indiana forward Paul George scored a team-high … [For more on Paul George leads Pacers past Magic on opening night, click here.]