Hill and West Step into the Spotlight

by Wheat Hotchkiss | @Wheat_Hotchkiss

February 8, 2014

As David West spoke with the media following the Pacers’ thrilling 118-113 overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers, his normally booming baritone was gone, replaced by a quieter, hoarser voice that cracked at seemingly every third syllable.

Was he battling some kind of cold? No, West laughed.

“I lost my voice screaming at George,” West said.

Throughout Friday night’s game, West never stopped talking to George Hill, the Pacers point guard.

When Hill made a shot, West told him to keep shooting. When Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard hit a contested jumper over Hill on the other end, West told Hill to go right back at him.

He chided Hill when Portland pushed its lead to eight points midway through the fourth quarter. He praised him when Hill’s jumper two minutes later erased the deficit.

When Hill made a leaning 3-pointer to tie the game with 8.3 seconds left in regulation, West howled with the 18,165 in attendance. Like a corner man with a champion boxer, West was in Hill’s ear on Friday night from the opening bell until the final buzzer.

“I had to get on George a little bit. I wanted to make sure George was being aggressive…Tonight, I was riding him a little bit,” West said.

Hill was aggressive, alright. He scored a career-high 37 points on 12-of-19 shooting. He scored 25 after halftime. He grabbed nine rebounds and dished out eight assists. He made the heroic shot to send the game into overtime, then sealed the win with three free throws in the final seconds.

The Pacers weren’t supposed to win this game. Their two All-Stars, Paul George and Roy Hibbert, struggled all night, making just 7-of-31 shots. Lance Stephenson, the player many felt should have made the All-Star team, watched from the bench in street clothes. Portland’s phenom point guard, Damian Lillard, seemingly couldn’t be guarded, scoring a game-high 38 points.

But Hill rose to the occasion.

So, too, did West. He may have been Hill’s corner man, but West was engaged in a heavyweight bout of his own. He went toe-to-toe with All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, arguably the best power forward in the NBA. Aldridge finished with 22 points on 9-of-24 shooting. West scored 30 (a season-high) on a ridiculously efficient 13-of-16 clip.

“David West led us,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said after the win. “In terms of organizing us and carrying us with his will and leadership and shot-making.”

West and Hill are capable scorers – West averaged 17.1 points per game last season, Hill 14.2. But with George and Stephenson emerging this year as dynamic scorers and playmakers, the Pacers’ two oldest starters have often deferred to their teammates on the offensive end (both players’ scoring averages are down nearly four points per game from a year ago).

But with Stephenson out with a sore back and George struggling to find his shot, Hill and West took it upon themselves to shoulder the offensive load.

The duo combined for 67 points, 48 of them coming after halftime. They scored 18 of the Pacers’ first 20 points in the second half. After Lillard’s jumper pushed Portland’s lead to 89-81 with 6:18 to play, West or Hill scored on each of the Pacers’ next eight possessions (West scored 10 points in that stretch, Hill added six).

“I thought we did a good job of staying the course,” West said after the game. “We found something that was working for us and we just made it a point to stay aggressive.

“Once we got something going and we got in a good rhythm…We were just able to get the shots we wanted and knock them down.”

Of all those 25 shots Hill and West knocked down Friday night, there’s no question which one was the biggest.

With the Pacers trailing 103-100 with 22 seconds left, Vogel drew up a play to get George a look coming off a screen on the right wing. With Nicolas Batum in his face, George faded on his shot and it hit off the front of the rim. But the rebound fell in front of West, who alertly batted the ball over Aldridge’s shoulder to Hibbert.

Hill broke for the left wing, and Hibbert quickly pitched him the ball. In nearly a single motion, Hill gathered the ball and rose into his shot, which swished through the net and sent The Fieldhouse into hysterics.

Hill said it was a situation the Pacers have practiced a bunch in practice, grabbing an offensive rebound and quickly kicking the ball back out to the wing for a 3-point attempt. Hill said Vogel likes to call it “the Kyle Korver play,” named thusly for the Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter and NBA record-holder for most consecutive games making a 3-pointer.

“We got a great offensive rebound…I just tried to find an open space to get a shot up,” Hill said.

Hill and West’s heroics didn’t end there.

With the score knotted at 107 and two and a half minutes remaining in overtime, Hill and West ran a pick-and-roll that caused Aldridge to switch onto the Pacers point guard. Hill took the ball right at the big man, driving to the basket and throwing a pump fake that sent Aldridge flying into the air, allowing Hill an easy layup.

On the next possession, Danny Granger missed a shot and Aldridge seemingly grabbed the rebound. But the Blazers forward began to fall out of bounds, so he tried to throw the ball back across the court to a teammate. West alertly read Aldridge’s eyes and jumped the passing lane for an easy steal and slam that put Indiana up by four. Portland never got closer than three the rest of the way. The Pacers prevailed, with George Hill and David West leading the way.

They weren’t the unlikeliest heroes (and really, the contribution Friday night of a much more unexpected source, seldom-used reserve Rasual Butler, merits its own story), but they weren’t the most likely, either.

One last scan of the box score underscores the duo’s remarkable performance: 67 points, 19 rebounds, nine assists…and one lost voice.

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