A closer look at how Udonis Haslem neutralized Roy Hibbert

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The normally inefficient behemoth was terrorizing Miami's frontline early in the game. An appearance by Udonis Haslem quickly ended all of that.

Lost in the midst of a controversial 84-83 Miami HEAT loss to the rival Indiana Pacers was that Roy Hibbert seemingly broke out of a month-long struggle, with his play resembling the work he did in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.

Prior to last night's game, Hibbert was averaging below 9 points and 5 rebounds per game on 44% shooting in the month of March. Last night however, Hibbert finished with 21 points on 7-15 shooting as well making 7 of 9 from the charity stripe. However, only 8 of those points came after the 1st quarter and after making 7 of his first 9 shots, he missed his last 6.

What was the difference?

For starters, I would first suggest that you read David Ramil's column on how starting center Greg Oden struggled in his first matchup here. Next, we can watch the video of Hibbert's "highlights"

Roy Hibbert Full Highlights 2014.03.26 vs Heat - 21 Pts via Dawk Ins

What frustrates most about seeing this is that Hibbert is simply not an efficient player at under 46% shooting for the season and under 50% around the rim according to NBA.com. The highlights above would suggest that he is always the 20 & 10 low post scorer that Miami saw in the Conference Finals. But consider in two prior matchups against the putrid Philadelphia 76ers on March 14th and March 17th, Roy Hibbert scored 12 total points on 5-13 shooting going against the incomparable duo of Henry Sims and Byron Mullens (I'd rather not link to any 76ers footage, as you all value your eyesight. Visit Roy Hibbert's NBA Stats page if you dare).

In the first quarter, Hibbert had a mix of some easy looks, but also hit some shots you just have to live with if you're Miami including a well-contested turnaround at the 10:49 mark of the 1st quarter. What did Udonis Haslem do differently upon entering the game? He made sure Hibbert's post catches were further away from the hoop and made sure to give up very little ground as Hibbert backed him down. In the 2nd half, Hibbert was 0-4 from the field and I went and highlighted 1 of those 4 attempts to show what Haslem is doing (you can watch all 4 misses here)

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(Click to enlarge)

Haslem did not bite on Roy Hibbert's shot fakes and committed only 1 foul in the game (none in the 2nd half). In addition, he used his lack of height to his advantage, getting under Hibbert and using his lower body strength to make sure Hibbert did not get deep inside (don't skip leg day!) A player of Greg Oden's girth is not afforded that luxury, and he was often put in a compromising position defensively, ironically, because of his own gargantuan stature.

So what does this all mean? Perhaps nothing, as this was one of the more bizarre games I can remember watching in a long time. Furthermore, Hibbert did his damage last postseason with Udonis Haslem in the starting lineup alongside Bosh (though it appeared Bosh guarded him more at that stage). Greg Oden has not been demoted despite not playing in the 2nd half and will start vs. the Detroit Pistons on Friday. Udonis, who has lately injected Miami's second unit with fresh legs and his usual lunchpail attitude, neutralized Hibbert, but struggled against former D-Leaguer Alexis Ajinca of all people in the 4th quarter of Miami's loss at New Orleans.

The regular season has turned into a slog for much of the NBA as March winds down and there will be some ebbs and flows along the way.

Nonetheless, Udonis Haslem was so fundamentally sound against Roy Hibbert last night that it certainly warrants future looks as well as applause for anyone who values fundamental post defense. The rotation for Miami is a bit wonky right now, so UD could very much become a postseason factor again if he can close out the season strong.

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