Maybe Hill, Collison should read up on Wally Pipp
April 17, 2012-- There are times when you feel really, really old.
Like when you ask Darren Collison if he is worried about being Wally-Pipped and he scrunches up his face and looks at you sideways and says, "What's that?"
And so you explain Pipp was the first baseman for the Yankees who one day sat out a game because of a headache, opening the door for a youngster named Lou Gehrig to move into the lineup -- and it took Gehrig 2,130 consecutive games to move out.
Seriously, everybody knows that story, right? It is woven into the fabric of the American sporting culture, isn't it? It couldn't just be D.C.?
I started asking around; not one of the players queried had heard of Wally Pipp.
Even George Hill?
"I'm not a big sports fan," he said with a straight face.
Whether the analogy ultimately applies or not, it bears scrutiny. Since Hill replaced the injured Collison in the starting lineup, the Pacers have gone 5-0, scored at least 102 points and allowed no more than 99.
Not only have they not skipped a beat, they seem to have found an entirely new rhythm.
"It's fun," Hill said of his new role. "You get to go out there and show what you can actually do as a starter and have fun out there with the first unit. I've never really gotten a good chance to play with the first unit but it just shows if one person goes down we have a complete team where people can step up and fill in like nothing happened."
In those five starts, Hill has averaged 14.8 points, 4.6 assists, shot 43 percent overall and 36 percent from the 3-point line. He also has committed just four turnovers, a remarkable figure considering the circumstances.
Of course, he has done this before. In three seasons with the Spurs, Hill started 55 games -- almost all filling in at point guard for Tony Parker -- and averaged 14.8 points and 3.6 assists.
The Spurs managed nicely in Parker's absence, as the Pacers have done without Collison, who returned Monday night against Minnesota but clearly was not 100 percent and thus will miss at least one more game.
"We’re playing good defense, sharing the ball and having fun out there," said Hill, whose spectacular reach-back dunk late in the first half electrified the crowd Monday. "I will give 110 percent any time I am put in the game. And wherever I am told to play I will do so.
"I was brought here to do this type of thing and I know my role and I know that I can help this team going to playoffs and in the playoffs. We’re on a win streak and that’s what we want to go into the playoffs with."
Collison said he originally tweaked the groin in a fall against Oklahoma City on April 6. He played 33 minutes the next night against Boston but struggled as tightness in the groin limited his explosiveness and cutting ability.
"It's really not that serious," Collison said. "It's not a torn ligament, not something that's going to keep me out for weeks and weeks. It's really a day-to-day thing. I'm going to feel sore but for the most part they want me to feel as healthy as I can, especially for the playoffs."
Prior to the injury, Collison had started every game he played with the Pacers and was considered the franchise's point guard of the present and future. But Hill's performance has at least put the question on the table:
Whether they've heard of him or not, is Wally Pipp up for discussion?
"George and Darren bring very different things to the table from the point guard spot," Vogel said. "It's not just George coming in and doing what D.C. does, they're different point guards.
"We understand that and they both have roles on our team, they're both going to be huge factors. I don't think there's any concern about (Collison) losing his starting job if he sits out too long."
With just five games left in the regular season and the playoffs looming, now is hardly the ideal time to be dealing with uncertainty at point guard. Truth be told, the Pacers are not. They are certain whoever is on the court -- including eternally solid backup A.J. Price -- can lead them where they want to go.