Watching George Hill in these playoffs has been a roller coaster ride. Not like that Millenium Force one at Cedar Point with the “do not ride if you have the slightest health problems because you are going to die” sign. More like the Cornball Express at Indiana Beach that is always broken, the one with the pregnant, mustache lady in front of you who blows smoke in your face.
During the regular season, Hill was scoring more points than Roy Hibbert (which is hard to believe because all of the sudden Hibbert turned into Hakeem Olajuwon). In the regular season, George posted career highs in points (14.2), assists (4.7), rebounds (3.7) and steals (1.1) during his first full year as a starter. And while his defense waned a little for whatever reason (he was hurt at the end of the year, for instance), but everything else about his play has been top notch.
His +/- minus was unbelievable, he played a lot (34.5 minutes per game) and he was as steady as they come. His name never shows up on SportsCenter because he is not 7”2’, and no one is calling him the “X Factor.” There is nothing sexy about safe, reliable, and steady.
But he has been invaluable to this team this season.
He has come up big, at times, in the postseason. But now, in Game 6, Hill cannot falter.
The reason why is because there is no one else.
Last year, Pacers coach Frank Vogel was able to confidently play guys off the bench. This year, not so much. Especially at the guard position.
Losing Granger was a large factor, and the domino effect has been real. As most fans know, Hill took over the spot from Darren Collision late last season and shined in the role. Collison was shipped out to Dallas, third-stringer A.J. Price left for the nation’s capital, and there has not really been a reliable back up all season.
D.J. Augustin (the highest draft pick on the entire roster oddly enough) does not really add value except for hitting open 3s. To say Augustin has been a disappointment this season would be an understatement.
Then there is Ben Hansbrough. Next!
Oh yeah, what about that one guy from the draft, Orlando Johnson? He has only logged 4 minutes thus far in the Miami series. (Three of these were garbage minutes from the blowout in Game 3; the other was a quick substitution when Sam Young hurt his ankle).
Simply, there is no one else to steady the ship while he Hill catches his breath. Go back a few weeks ago and think about when Augustin filled in when Hill missed Game 5 in New York with a concussion. That was the best option and the result was frightening.
A few notes on George Hill since the playoff started.
Opposition: Jeff Teague and Devin Harris.
During the early stages of the Atlanta series, Hill played the way that most have come to expect. Game 3 was one of the worst that I can remember him playing in a long time, and he also had a dismal Game 4 against Atlanta. Later we came to find out that he re-aggravated his hip injury during Game 1. Hill acknowledged that he likely won’t be at 100% for the remainder of the postseason, but didn’t have any plans to take time off. Could this have something to do with his technical hitches?
Opposition: Raymond Felton (mostly), Pablo Prigioni, and Jason Kidd
After Game 1, the TNT talking heads told Hill that Indiana couldn’t win without him being aggressive. In Game 3, he played very solid and was key in generating energy with some well-needed 3 pointers. He had a podium night in Game 4, which was, incidentally, the same game that he suffered a concussion. Hill went off and in my humble opinion hasn’t really seemed the same since. I think that the concussion from Game 4 during the New York series has had an impact greater than what most people think. He hasn’t broken the 20-point mark since and seems to have lost an edge. His play in Game 6 was pretty bad, as he scored 12 points on 2-for-10 shooting. He grabbed five boards and dished out four assists in a 106-99 win. Some R & R was in order but due to Miami closing out their series early, and Indiana needing six game to beat the Knicks, Indiana was playing behind the 8 ball.
Opposition: Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, and at times Ray Allen/Dwyane Wade
The opposing guards Hill has faced against Miami are not exactly the players that come to mind as those who could cause a lackluster performance. But Hill’s shooting throughout the series has been streaky at best. Basically, you can sum up Hill’s role in the series thus far as eliminating anyone outside of the “Big 3” and defensively aiding against Wade/James when Stephenson or George need help. He was pretty bad in Game 1. Although he had 7 assists, the 5 points and 3 turnovers were alarming. He stepped up huge in Game 2 adding a little of everything. Let’s chalk Game 3 as a mulligan — just about every Pacer looked like a dear in headlights. He got into foul trouble early in Game 5 and that seemed to take the wind out of not only Hill’s sails but the team in general.
All in all, he has been up and down since late April.
Only George could tell you that, and I am sure that even he would have a hard time explaining. Maybe it is partially due to the concussion or the collision with Teague that re-aggravated a hip injury he had been playing through for some time. Maybe.
A better explanation and possibly the best is trial and error. A very simple notion that most people forget or might not even think about is a series of games. The scientific process. Wash and repeat. Take the fact that Miami has had no answer for Hibbert. This is because there is no answer. Over this series, Miami has dug deep into trying to figure out how to stop Roy (and West). They simply are not big enough in the interior. Take that same notion but flip it. Not just for the Miami series but the 2013 playoffs as a whole. Hill does well in one game, and (insert team here) makes an adjustment, and in turn a solution. Think about it as a chess game but on a grander scale with 10+ variables instead of 2 (being players). During the regular season, there is no time to make small tweaks and adjustments for each individual player, and each individual game. You see this a lot, especially when a player is a primary ball handler a la point guards.
Call it an educated guess, I don’t know.
What I do know, is that Hill is the most underrated player on this team. Probably not to the men in the locker room, but to we, media, fans, spectators, and armchair quarterbacks. Best-case scenario for Indiana right now is to get back to Miami. The best way for that to happen is for George Hill to be that strong, quiet, confident type.
He needs to score points but not like Stephen Curry.
He needs to get some assists but not like Rajon Rondo.
He needs to restrict the team’s turnovers, and be about as versatile as they come like … George Hill.