INDIANAPOLIS -- It's as if the Indiana Pacers have been walking a tightrope for the past two months, teetering every few steps as the crowd has swelled waiting for the final tragedy.
It could very well happen, the plunge and the fallout from it, and some have confidently predicted it is only a matter of time. There is, however, another resolution that exists. What happens if the Pacers make it to the other side?
The burdensome transition from potential to expectation -- the surly days of being overlooked and underpaid have been replaced with huge checks, magazine covers and fierce criticism -- will end at some point. Either they will be finished or they will have developed a callus that will act as the invaluable shield that championship teams develop.
Where Roy Hibbert is on that continuum is hard to judge. But his fantastic Game 2 on Wednesday, an 86-82 Pacers victory to even their series with the Washington Wizards, was the steadiest step he's taken in weeks. It gave the Pacers renewed hope they can find solid ground again, but only the next step will tell for sure.
When Hibbert is standing tall and feeling confident, like in last postseason's Eastern Conference finals and the first three months or so of this season, the Pacers are certified legit. When he's slouching and invisible, they can often resemble a quivering mess.
Paul George might be the franchise, but Hibbert is the mood ring. And with the Pacers, mood can often be everything. They are an extremely fragile team emotionally, which is saying something, because postseason basketball is fragile by nature.
This is why there was an organization-wide effort to nurture Hibbert back to health over the two days between Game 1, defined by his goose egg in the points and rebounds columns, and a hugely important Game 2.
Coach Frank Vogel called him into his office for an hour-long pep talk. George took him out on his boat bass fishing on Geist Reservoir outside the city.
David West pulled him into a corner.
Hibbert's college coach, John Thompson III, flew in from Washington D.C. with agent David Falk and sat in the first row near the Pacers bench.
The organization even symbolically said goodbye to Andrew Bynum, an experiment long since left for dead but perhaps just one percent on Hibbert's mind, officially casting Bynum off eight hours before game time.
Maybe all of that helped uplift the sensitive big man and lead directly to his best game of the season, scoring 28 points with nine rebounds on 10-of-13 shooting.
Or maybe it was the fact that he made a basket on the first possession of the game, the jumper creating a huge roar from the crowd that clearly was a stress reliever. More likely it was Hibbert's almost angry attempts at demanding the ball, posting up Wizards big men Nene and Marcin Gortat and forcing them way deeper than the scouting report demanded.
In a defining moment just a handful of possessions into the game, Lance Stephenson -- the most obvious culprit of Hibbert's infamous "selfish" comment from late in the regular season -- was about to get a pick from West. Normally, Stephenson would not turn down a chance to get freed up for a drive; he loves to be the focal point.
But he waved West away and nodded toward Hibbert, who was planted inside.