Game 4 against the Knicks was critical for the Pacers. By winning Game 1 in New York, they stole home court advantage. Back in Indiana for Game 3, they took care of business. But to really put the Knicks in a hole — down 3-1 and a virtual non-threat to come back — they needed to take Game 4 as well.
Otherwise, a series that the Pacers were in control of would have turned into a best-of-three with two of those games being played in Madison Square Garden. Not good.
A year earlier, the Pacers had been in the exact same situation in the second round. They were up 2-1 on the Heat, but coughed up Game 4, as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combine for 70 points.
They wouldn’t win another game that year.
The Pacers got off to a great start this time, however. They jumped out to an 11-3 lead over the Knicks. Then … the Knicks when on an 11-3. For you non-math majors, that tied the game. Indiana was turning the ball over constantly and the offense started to look clunky. Possessions were wasted, balls were handed over.
The ship was eventually righted. Indiana went on a 13-2 run to close the half. the Pacers led 48-34 at the break.
It should have been enough to withstand any New York second-half.
But in the third, the Knicks started to claw back a little. They looked like the better offense, and Indiana started to stop getting good looks.
Pacers’ fans are way too familiar with this. A big lead evaporates as the offense turns to draught. Such stretches of futility happened in both the team’s losses against Atlanta in round one and countless times during the regular season.
It’s really uncanny. Happens all the time.
This felt like it would be one of those.
Then George Hill was like “Nah.”
He dropped 14 points in the quarter, making 5 of the team’s 7 field goals over the 12-minute stretch.
This wasn’t the result of Hill being the beneficiary of a fixed Pacers offense. This was George Hill, who, we later learned, suffered a concussion in the first quarter of the game, stepping up and putting the damn ball in the hole. No offense. Just a guy making plays.
Just look at how he scored all his points. There isn’t much good offense in there. He makes shots with the clock winding down and attacks the rim on his own.
Extended droughts can’t happen against Miami if Indiana hopes to win.
That margin of error does not exist against what appears to be all all-time great team.
Instead, when the offense begins to falter, this is what the Pacers need: an individual player who refuses to let it happen.
The refrain we always here is that a team can’t win a title without a superstar who can take over. Other than the 2004 Pistons and the 1978 Sonics, there isn’t a lot of evidence to the contrary.
But if the team-oriented attack is to work, there has to be a rotation of guys who take responsibility for their team not falling off the rails.
People will want David West to punish the smaller Miami’s “bigs” who try to guard him. They will want the team’s All-Star, Paul George, to prove that he actually is a reliable two-way force. They will want Lance Stephenson to show the world that his Game 6 performance wasn’t just a one-time act.
All that will be necessary for Indiana to improbably advance.
But Hill might be the most critical.
While Indiana’s interior for sure needs to dominate, the other area where the Pacers have the clear advantage is point guard. When the Heat have Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole on the court, George Hill needs to be aggressive.
Hill cannot just be the passive offensive facilitator and spot-up shooter that he sometimes becomes. He must penetrate, hit pull-up jumpers, drive-and-kick and penetrate. And penetrate. He has to get to the rim.
He has to score.