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Hill Plays His Game

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

April 23, 2014, 12:45 a.m.

The Pacers are a much better team when George Hill is aggressive. He knows it, his teammates say it and coach Frank Vogel is doing what he can to reinforce it.

In the team’s 101-85 Game 2 win on Tuesday, Vogel used a backcourt of Hill and C.J. Watson for much of the game, which worked defensively and freed Hill up to be himself. The Indy native doesn’t like being dubbed as a point guard but simply as a “guard.”

“That’s what I’ve been my whole life, a scorer at the wing spot,” Hill said after scoring 15 points all in the second half, including 10 in the third quarter on 5-of-6 shooting. “With C.J., I don’t have to worry about play calls or trying to set guys up and figuring out who’s getting touches. It gave me an opportunity to be aggressive and play my game.”

Vogel’s move was in part made to allow Hill to play his natural position. But he also did it for defensive purposes.

“You got to have speed to contain the basketball down there and to scramble to shooters,” Vogel said. “That’s what we were trying to achieve.”

Paul George guarded the explosive Jeff Teague for much of the night, which matched Hill on Kyle Korver. The sharpshooter didn’t attempt a shot in the first half and finished with three points on 1-of-5 shooting.

“I was happy that he tried it,” Hill said of Vogel’s move. “He always said all year that he was going to try it but we haven’t done it that many times. It was a great call by him.”

It’s no secret that Hill’s play has dipped over the past two months. Indiana’s emphases during that time — not turning the ball over, moving it, playing unselfishly, and getting others involved — are a logical explanation. In the team’s loss at Miami on Apr. 11, he was held scoreless and did not even attempt a shot in 33 minutes. Coach Vogel played him, along with Roy Hibbert, in the first half of their season finale in hopes of Hill gaining some confidence and taking some positive momentum into the playoffs.

Much of it is still on Hill, though.

“This is what the team needs and I just need to stop playing safe,” he said. “I feel like when I play safe and not trying to turn the ball over or worry about getting guys involved, that’s when I tend to not be aggressive.”

Hill missed both of his field goal attempts and was scoreless in the first 13 minutes of the game. In the locker room at halftime, the team discussed playing aggressive and being the team to make a third-quarter run. That was indeed the case, as they outscored the Hawks 31-13 in the period.

With 10 points in the third, Hill nearly matched the Hawks by himself. He took advantage of the Hawks switching pick-and-rolls and forced them to be honest. Numerous times there was then a gap in the defense and he exploited it, then finished at the rim.

“Just getting good opportunities and trying to take advantage of it,” Hill reflected on what changed for him in the second half. “I saw they were overplaying some plays some time and just tried to get in the paint and get my floater that I normally got. I was telling people that I don’t remember the last time I got a floater.”

It wasn’t just Hill on this night. C.J. Watson, who handled the point guard duties when playing alongside Hill, contributed 10 points.

As modest and quiet as Hill is, he acknowledges the difference he makes when he plays aggressively. In fact, guys in his corner have been reinforcing it during this disappointing stretch. Now, it’s essential that he plays “his game” the rest of the way.

“It’s night and day, man,” David West said of Indiana’s play with an aggressive Hill. “When he’s engaged, not so much just out there hunting for his but when he’s just putting pressure on teams to guard him and stop him in transition and deal with his speed and his IQ, we’re a different basketball team.”

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