Hibbert, Pacers crush Bucks
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
INDIANAPOLIS--Miroslav Raduljica is a big guy, listed in the Milwaukee Bucks media guide at 7-foot-1 and 280 pounds.
But Raduljica was pushed around and outmaneuvered by 7-2 Indiana center Roy Hibbert on Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Hibbert proved unstoppable as the Indiana Pacers cruised to a 104-77 victory, improving to 9-0 and remaining the only unbeaten team in the National Basketball Association. The Pacers center just missed a triple-double with season highs of 24 points and eight blocks to go along with 10 rebounds.
“This is maybe the strongest guy I’ve ever played, the biggest and longest,” said Raduljica, the 25-year-old rookie from Serbia. “This guy is really long.
“I did my best to ride him off and box out. He’s really tough. I’ve never played against guys like this.”
Bucks coach Larry Drew threw several defenders at Hibbert, including veteran Zaza Pachulia, Ekpe Udoh and Raduljica.
“We threw what we had at him, but it didn’t seem to affect him at all,” Drew said. “You try to take something away and you give something else up.
“That team is playing really well right now. They’re getting it from their starters and they’re getting it from their bench guys.”
Udoh was in foul trouble from the start and was limited to 15 minutes in a starting role.
“With Ekpe in foul trouble and really having to keep an eye on Zaza’s minutes, you’ve got to throw the next big body on Hibbert,” Drew said. “And it happened to be Miroslav.”
Raduljica played 18 minutes and had four points, six rebounds, two blocks and three fouls.
“I’m collecting experience,” Raduljica said. “This is my first year. I’m listening to Zaza, listening to other guys. I’m doing my best when I get a chance.”
When the Bucks made a 9-0 run at the beginning of the third quarter to trim a 15-point deficit to six, the Pacers answered immediately behind guard Paul George.
Indiana stretched its lead to 75-61 entering the final quarter as George hit 5 of 7 shots and scored 10 of his 22 points in the period.
“He’s an all-star,” Drew said. “He has the ability to take that team on his back. When we closed within six, he seemed to take it upon himself to get that team going.”
O.J. Mayo led the Bucks (2-6) with 20 points but they lost their fourth straight game. Khris Middleton and Gary Neal each had 11 points.
Pachulia was just 2 for 14 from the field but had a game-high 11 rebounds.
“I know Pachulia has given me problems in the past in Atlanta,” Hibbert said of the former Hawks player. “I just took it upon myself as a mental challenge to overcome that and give it my all.”
George said the Pacers have a winning formula.
“This is the same story every night,” he said. “We come out and play hard. We make them shoot jump shots, and our big front line comes away with the boards. We know we can hold our own with any team with our defense.”
The Bucks had 10 available players, although they were missing Caron Butler, Brandon Knight and Ersan Ilyasova, all out with injuries.
But point guard Luke Ridnour returned for his first game this season after being sidelined with a herniated disc in his back. Ridnour played 21 minutes and had four points and one assist.
“For not practicing and whatever, the first time going live in over two weeks, I’ll take it,” Ridnour said. “I’m obviously not where I want to be yet.
“It’s good to get out there and feel OK. I’m just out of shape and I’ve got to get my legs going. I want to do stuff. I’ll get there, though.”
The Pacers will head to Chicago to face the Bulls on Saturday night. Indiana’s nine consecutive victories are the most it has recorded as an NBA franchise, although the Pacers won 11 in a row as an ABA team in 1972-’73.
The last team to start a season with nine straight victories was Dallas during the 2002-’03 season when the Mavericks opened with a 14-0 record.
“Hibbert is a load down there, the way he is playing,” Ridnour said. “And they’re undefeated so there’s a reason why.
“Their team is good. They have a chance to win it (an NBA title). They’re built for it.”
The Bucks concluded a three-game road trip and headed home to play their fourth game in five nights as they meet the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night.