"It's been rough,'' said John Thompson III, Hibbert's coach at Georgetown, who sat near the baseline with Hibbert's agent, David Falk, Wednesday night.
What we saw in the Indiana Pacers' 86-82 Game 2 victory over the Washington Wizards was one of the most remarkable overnight transformations in sports history. From no-show to superstar. From national punching bag to Floyd Mayweather. From cipher to hero. In 48 hours.
Hibbert fought Wednesday night, fought for position, fought for rebounds, fought on defense and fought his demons. The result was the night of his life, a where-did-that-come-from performance.
Twenty-eight points. Nine rebounds. Two blocks.
"People have been piling on Roy, and anytime there's been an opportunity to piggyback on him, people have done that,'' Pacers forward David West said. "You know, he's a guy who's very aware. That's been part of this thing. We tell him to unplug himself and he's tried, he's worked on it, but you can't help but hear the criticism.''
The Hibbert of this postseason — the Hibbert of the past few months, really — has been adrift physically and emotionally. He's often been called this team's anchor, but lately, "anchor'' has meant something else entirely. He was viewed, often quite accurately, as the guy who was dragging the Pacers down to the bottom of the ocean through their late-season swoon.
It was interesting, then, to hear Hibbert talk Wednesday night about being lost at sea.
"David talked to me about being the person who rescues himself when you're in the middle of the ocean,'' Hibbert said. "There's nobody to throw you a life raft or a rope to help you.''
Hibbert helped himself, and his team, by producing the kind of effort we saw with great frequency during last year's post-season run. Time after time, he was the first big man down the floor. Time after time, he established low-post position, made himself a prime target. Time after time, he fought for rebounds, which not only resulted in boards but produced fouls on Washington's big men.
Understand, Hibbert cannot hide or be hidden in this series. These aren't the Atlanta Hawks, a team with perimeter-dwelling big men, a group who can be beaten with the Pacers playing small. The Wizards have size and strength in the paint with Marcin Gortat and Nene. Ultimately, Hibbert doesn't need to be dominant for the Pacers to advance, but he's got to be present and productive.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to get going,'' Hibbert said. "I don't want to get into excuses (for playing poorly). I think I was making a lot of excuses throughout the second half of the season and the playoffs. I just decided to take it into my own hands and turn it around.
"My teammates are great. They showed a lot of trust in me and I appreciate that a lot. Despite whatever ups and downs I've had, they've always had my back.''
The aquatic theme continued later when Hibbert talked at length about his off-day fishing expedition with teammates Paul George and George Hill. George, of course, has been linked to Hibbert in all those irresponsible social-media rumors. But Tuesday afternoon, there they were on George's boat, fishing for something other than answers.
"I seriously believe the biggest person that helped me out was Paul,'' Hibbert said. "(Tuesday) after practice he invited me out on his boat, and we fished for about two hours and just relaxed and didn't talk about basketball. We just talked about life and tried to catch some bass. I really appreciated him reaching out to me. He didn't have to do that.''
These are tough and interesting times to be a professional athlete. Yes, the money is otherworldly. But the social-media landscape has changed everything. The 24-7 sports coverage has changed everything. In the old days, a player could hide. That's no longer the case.
"This is professional sports, and the hard part is when you're someone who's hard on himself and expects a lot from himself, sometimes the burden gets too heavy,'' West said. "But that's part of the responsibility of being a professional athlete. I was really proud of the way Roy played and responded tonight.''
Here's the thing: People in this town like Roy Hibbert. For all the media criticism here and elsewhere, for all the local talk-show conversation about his funk in recent games and recent months, the fact remains that he has built up a deep reservoir (water theme!) in this city. He is a new-age big man, a fun-loving guy who was among the first Pacers to reach out to fans on social media, even organizing flash mobs throughout the city.
People are rooting for Hibbert, and even when he got called for goal-tending, the crowd at Bankers Life erupted in appreciation. It was only appropriate that Hibbert would rebound the final Washington miss. Some of us half-expected him to fall to the floor and celebrate like fellow Georgetown grad Dikembe Mutombo.
"That's the Roy we saw in the playoffs last year,'' backup Ian Mahinmi said. "But I don't want him to get too high off this game.''
Hibbert said, "Consistency hasn't been my best friend lately.''
For one day, anyway, Hibbert quieted the crazy noise, the external noise and the noise inside his head. For a team on the precipice once again in these playoffs, it was an inspiring, if mystifying, start.