Hill’s Work Against Wall Proves Vital to Pacers’ Game 2 Win

by Manny Randhawa | @MannyRSports

May 8, 2014 | 12:25 a.m.

The story of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Pacers and the Washington Wizards Wednesday night was Roy Hibbert.

Following his second zero-point, zero-rebound outing during the playoffs in Game 1, Hibbert broke through with a huge 28-point performance to push Indiana to an 86-82 win to even the best-of-seven series at one game apiece as the scene shifts to the nation’s capital.

Hibbert’s imprint on this game was as large as his shoe size, but somewhat lost behind the cover story is another crucial element to Indiana’s victory in a must-win game: the play of George Hill.

Related: Hibbert Offers New Storyline

The Pacers’ point guard scored 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting and made a huge defensive play late in the fourth quarter, stripping John Wall as he went to the basket, to help Indiana salvage one of the first two games of the series on its home court.

Offensively, Hill has been inconsistent this season. He’s proven he can be a scorer, as evidenced most emphatically on Feb. 7 when he dropped a career-high 37 points on the Trail Blazers. But in an example of the feast-or-famine nature of his offensive contributions, in the two games prior to that he combined for seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.

In the first half of the season, Hill’s field goal percentage was 45 percent. In the second half, it dropped to 42 percent. He struggled mightily in March and April, shooting just 38 and 40 percent, respectively. He also shot the ball less after the All-Star break, averaging 8.5 field goal attempts per game before, and 7.3 after.

An unorthodox point guard who describes himself as a shooting guard, Hill has gone back and forth between timid and aggressive with the basketball on offense, but it’s become clear that when he’s aggressive, the Pacers have greater success.

“It’s the same M.O.,” said David West. “When George is aggressive, we’re a better basketball team. When he’s playing with aggression and intent, we’re a tough team to deal with … we absolutely need it. Sometimes he thinks he has to get guys involved and get the guys moving, but I think just his aggression, his intent to move and attack and be aggressive – and sometimes he has to shoot contested shots – but those are the shots that we need him to take to keep our offense moving in the right direction.”

Hill was aggressive very early in Game 2, scoring his first bucket on a 14-footer 2:50 into the game. A minute and 10 seconds later, he took the ball into the paint and scored on a reverse layup to give the Pacers a quick 13-5 lead, in stark contrast to an extremely slow start in Game 1, in which Indiana found itself in a 13-point hole after one quarter.

With 2:32 left in the first half, Hill recognized a big defensive lapse by Washington, reversing direction to take the ball uncontested straight up the middle for an easy dunk.

“I’m just taking what the defense gives us,” Hill said after the game. “I’m not trying to force anything. I’m just trying to be aggressive, and whatever the defense opens up, that’s what I’ve gotta take.”

He took it on Wednesday, making his counterpart John Wall work on defense. Wall is known as a defensive roamer, making what Hill did to keep him honest important to the Pacers’ success in containing the Wizards’ star point guard at the other end of the floor.

“That was huge,” Paul George said of Hill’s work against Wall. “Because John is one of those players defensively that can do a lot of things, but he likes to roam and just be a guy that disrupts plays. So you’ve gotta make him work. It tires him out, and that’s what George did.”

“You’ve gotta make him guard,” West said of Wall. “You can’t just let him roam and not feel the pressure of playing defense on one end.”

Hill kept the pressure on, and it showed in the box score. Wall, who averaged 19 points per game during the regular season, had just six points on 2-of-13 shooting. After the game he said Washington’s first road loss of the postseason was on his shoulders.

“I didn’t play great,” Wall lamented. “I feel like I lost the game for my team.”

Hill has a great amount of respect for the player Wall is, and used that to fuel his tenacity against him on both ends of the floor in Game 2.

“He’s a great defender,” Hill said. “He’s the head of the snake over there, and you have to challenge him on both ends of the floor to try to tire his legs out so he doesn’t have all that momentum on the offensive end. So I was just trying to go back at him and keep guys involved.”

Hill made perhaps the defensive play of the game with 42 seconds remaining and the Pacers clinging to a 3-point lead. As the fleet-footed Wall sped toward the basket, Hill stripped him as he went for a layup, leading to a game-sealing 22-footer by Lance Stephenson on the other end.

“Just making a play, you know,” Hill said. “The previous play before that, he got me caught looking trying to help, figuring out where (Bradley) Beal was, and we gave up a layup. So it was just me trying to make a play; the game’s on the line at that point.”

The game was on the line, and Hill, as he had been doing all evening, came through.

Going forward, No. 3 knows how important it is for him to contribute offensively for the Pacers to succeed, but he still keeps his role in perspective. His mindset is focused not on the part of the box score that shows his stats, but the final outcome.

“It’s not about my offense, it’s about trying to find a way to win the game,” he said. “If that’s me scoring, then so be it …. You don’t go in thinking about your stats. You just go in and do whatever it takes to help this team win the game.”

It’s true that it’s not about Hill’s offense in the sense that the Pacers don’t have plays designed specifically for him. But when the opportunity arises and Hill pulls the trigger, it can lead to good things for Indiana.

“We’re not calling plays, he doesn’t get any plays called for him,” West said. “But when he’s got the ball in his hands, we encourage him to be aggressive.”

That aggressiveness paid dividends in Game 2, helping send the Pacers to D.C. to begin what amounts to a best-of-five series against the Wizards for a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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The Pacers host the Wizards in Game 5 of the Eastern Conf. Semifinals on May 13