Collison Brings Much-Needed Spark to Second Unit
May 6, 2012 -- What George Hill did at the end of the game certainly enabled the Pacers to close out an overtime victory in Orlando.
Had it not been for what Darren Collison did in the beginning, however, Indiana might not have had the opportunity.
Collison had his best game Saturday since being moved to the second unit late in the regular season, racking up 11 points and nine assists without a turnover in 18.3 minutes, providing a much-needed spark for the second unit in a 101-99 overtime victory in Game 4 in Orlando's Amway Center.
"Darren Collison was terrific," Coach Frank Vogel said. "He completely changed the game in the first half and played a strong second half, as well. When your point guards are playing at the level George Hill and Darren Collison are playing at, you can win anywhere against anyone.
"Our second unit was taking some heat the first couple of games but tonight it was the other way around. Darren's pressure changed the game and the speed of (Tyler) Hansbrough, (Lou) Amundson, (Leandro) Barbosa, Paul George -- my vision is for that second unit to change the pace of the game, the same way they did (Saturday)."
Unlike the first three games, when the first unit came out hot, building double-digit leads in the first quarters, this time it was the second unit that got things going. Orlando jumped out to a 16-10 lead as the starters were flat.
The second unit provided 18 of the points in a 24-7 run that put the Pacers in front 34-23. Collison's extended defensive pressure was so disruptive, the Magic went nearly 10 minutes without a basket, committing seven turnovers in the process.
"I really try to cause havoc with my defensive pressure, try to get some deflections so we can keep it going," Collison said. "Orlando's a solid defensive team. They might be outsized in some ways but I think our best offense is our defense and our second unit did a good job of that."
He also was strong in the second half, with six points and three assists in a 14-2 run that put the Pacers up 82-63 with 8:16 remaining.
Orlando put together a remarkable comeback but Hill, who had just one point in the first 44½ minutes, scored 11 of the team's final 17, including the last six in overtime.
With Collison leading the way, the second unit racked up a series-high 26 points on 10 of 17 shooting.
"The way we're looking at it, D.C. is a quality starting point guard," said David West, who teamed with Collison in New Orleans in 2009-10. "We just hit a good stride with G-Hill in there but it doesn't lessen Darren's role. He adds to the game. He has an advantage when he comes off the bench; he had an advantage (Saturday). I though we were able to wear Jameer (Nelson) down a bit with him having to deal with George and D.C. Just another guy who's confident enough to step up and make plays."
Losing the starting job wasn't easy for Collison, who was hailed as the franchise's point guard of the future when acquired from the Hornets prior to last season. It has taken him some time to adjust to the different role and personnel with the second unit.
"With D.C. on that second unit, that's a big change and he's only been with us a couple weeks now and we're still trying to adjust to that and it's a process but I think we're starting to find that rhythm," Amundson said. "That first week, I think he was just rusty more than anything. Once he shakes that rust off, you have to adjust to coming off the bench and being with different players and we have to adjust to him. It's a process but we're getting there."
One of the most upbeat, positive personalities in the locker room, Collison has remained so since the switch. One of the toughest aspects of the move for Vogel was breaking the news to Collison. But the Pacers simply played at a higher level with Hill in the lineup, winning seven in a row after Collison was sidelined by a sore groin.
The Pacers are 10-3 with Hill as the starter, including their 3-1 series lead against the Magic.
"In sports, the old rule is you don't lose your job to injury but sometimes it makes sense," Vogel said. "The way our team was playing when Darren was out and George Hill was the starting point guard, it would've not made sense to break the rhythm of that group so we stayed with it.
"Darren is a consummate pro. He was disappointed to not be back in the starting lineup but I told him his team needed him to embrace the role with the second unit. He understands some games we're going to close with him because he's a starting-level point guard, a top-10 point guard in the NBA, and he's embraced that. It was very evident (Saturday) the way he played. He was maybe the best player on the court the whole first half."
To close out the Magic and have any chance in the second round, the Pacers will need peak productivity from the bench, and Collison must player a major role.
"Regardless what my role is for this team, I'm locked-in, I'm focused and I want to win real bad for this organization and these fans," he said. "I'm going to lay my heart on the line. If I have to pressure 100 feet, whatever it takes, scratch, crawl, bleed -- whatever it takes to get a win."