Posted Apr 26 2010 10:45AM
SAN ANTONIO -- Antonio McDyess grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a good shake. Tim Duncan patted him on the head before taking a seat. Manu Ginobili offered a few coaching tips prior to the coaches taking over the huddle. One Spur after another shared a moment with George Hill.
It was well deserved.
The second-year point guard helped push San Antonio to the brink of the Western Conference semifinals after a brilliant 29-point outing Sunday. The Spurs lead the first-round series 3-1, with Game 5 slated for Tuesday night in Dallas.
"George Hill was something else," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Hill has only known the Mavericks in his brief playoff career, and up until Game 4, there was no reason for San Antonio's arch rival to fear the 23-year-old product of tiny IUPUI. Hill made just seven shots total in the opening round against Dallas last year, seeing action in four of the five games, and scored just 24 points in the first three games of this series.
And isn't any postseason scuffle with San Antonio about Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker? Hill was on the Dallas scouting report, but hardly a priority. And before Sunday, was there any reason to fear him?
"You have to give Hill credit," Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "He was unconscious from the 3-point line."
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Hill did hit 5 of 6 3-pointers, including ones to close out the first and second quarters that kept San Antonio somewhat within striking distance. But when the Spurs mounted the charge that turned a potential blowout loss into near insurmountable series lead, Hill was leading the band.
"My confidence is high," he said. "It's been something that's been high all year. I worked all summer to come up this year and be an offensive and defensive threat for this team. Starting with this summer, it's been fun learning different ways to help win games. I just try to keep learning and try to help my team get better."
Hill scored 11 in the third quarter, matching the Dallas' output for the entire period. Jason Kidd had to feel all of his 37 years chasing Hill around screens, only to watch jumper after jumper fall. With it an 11-point halftime lead evaporated and Dallas went into the final quarter trailing the Spurs by seven.
"They ran a look of pick-and-rills and [Hill] got a lot of good looks and he made them," Kidd said. "If he misses them, maybe it's a different story."
There was some question whether Hill would be physically ready for the first round. Playing the best ball of his young career, especially as the starting point guard during Parker's month-long absence with a broken hand, Hill sprained his ankle earlier this month. He returned for the regular-season finale at Dallas and tweaked the injury falling over a cameraman on the baseline.
Hill started Game 1, but went scoreless in 18 minutes in Dallas' lone win of the series. He didn't hit his first shot until the fourth quarter of Game 2. In the last two games, he's played 45 minutes in each and scored a total of 46 points.
"I finally have my feet back under me," Hill said. "I have been struggling with a bum ankle for the last couple of weeks. I have done a lot of rehab that got me back to 100 percent. The main thing about all of this is just belief in myself and just play, and not worry about my ankle."
Hill had reason to believe. Other than Ginobili, no other Spur was more consistent during the stretch run of the regular season. San Antonio's belief that it could be dangerous in the playoffs had as much to do with Hill as the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili triple-option.
So on a night when birthday boy Duncan when scoreless in the first half and broken-nosed Ginobili couldn't sniff the rim, Hill filled the void. He knocked down 11-of-16 shots and added a pair of steals as the Spurs put Dallas in a series headlock.
"With Timmy not making shots and Manu struggling a little bit, George stepped up big," Parker said. "That's what happens when you have different weapons and different guys who can do stuff. One of the guys will hopefully get hot, and [Sunday night] that was George."
Hill's teammates made sure to recognize those contributions after his jumper made it 81-71 midway through the fourth. It was the last of his 29 points, and the ensuing timeout was equal parts "thank you" and strategy session.
"It shows that we are a complete team," Hill said "They believe in me and it shows they have confidence in me, and I just try to deliver. It's the Big Three, but for one of them to kick it out to a second-year player says a lot. The Big Three will give you a chance to contribute and play. That's all you can ask for."
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