Is George Hill Indiana Pacers' Hidden Key to Snuffing out New York Knicks?
And not just a physical leap from the hardwood to a darkened training room on account of a concussion, though that had everything to do with it. Rather, I'm referring to the more symbolic, even lyrical leap that Hill made—from Rodney Dangerfield to Jodi Mitchell, from "I can't get no respect!" to "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."
The Pacers pummeled the wayward Knicks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Game 4, 93-82. Hill led the way with 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, with four assists, three rebounds and a steal in 37 minutes for good measure. Statistically speaking, it was arguably Hill's finest playoff performance as a Pacer.
And that's before we even consider the pesky defense he played on Raymond Felton, particularly in the pick-and-roll.
Unfortunately, Hill's postseason breakout wasn't without incident. He caught an elbow to the head from Tyson Chandler in the first quarter of that game, and though he managed to play on without further incident, the lingering effects were difficult to shake. Soon enough, Hill's persistent headache gave way to a concussion diagnosis, forcing Hill himself to give way to D.J. Augustin in Game 5.
The result? The Pacers dropped a wholly (and strangely) winnable game in Hill's absence. Moving Augustin into the starting five, albeit out of necessity, threw the entire team out of whack. There were some stretches wherein Lance Stephenson and Paul George had to split duties at the point (Yikes!), others during which the seldom seen Gerald Green was asked to make entry passes into the post (Double Yikes!), and still others that rendered the mistake-prone Sam Young far too pivotal a piece of the Pacers' incomplete puzzle (Even More Yikes!).
Hence, the 19 turnovers (seven between Paul George and Gerald Green) against 12 assists (none from Augustin), the 36.2 percent shooting for the Pacers, and Felton's pick-and-roll renaissance (via Hardwood Paroxysm):
This was beig guarded by George Hill. RT @knicknames: Felton is playing a great passing game tonight. WHERE WAS THIS?!?!?!— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) May 17, 2013
In essence, Hill's concussion set off an unsettling chain of events that ended with the Pacers' (precarious lack of) depth, particularly on the perimeter, being put to the test...and failing rather miserably.
And predictably. For all the burgeoning star power of Paul George, the intriguing storyline that is Lance Stephenson, the defensive dominance of Roy Hibbert and the veteran reliability of David West, it turns out that Hill is the one who truly butters Indy's proverbial bread.
According to NBA.com, the Pacers outscored the opposition by 8.7 points per 100 possessions when Hill played and were outscored by 2.5 points per 100 possessions when he sat during the regular season—a disparity of 11.2 points. So far through these playoffs, those numbers have swung even more dramatically, to plus-8.4 with Hill and minus-15.3 without him. The difference in the Knicks' series alone has been astonishing (via ESPN Stats & Info):
George Hill out for Pacers tonight. Pacers are +6 in net efficiency this series with Hill on the court, -20 with Hill off the court.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 17, 2013
Make that minus-30 without Hill now, after the Pacers' 10-point defeat in Game 5.
Clearly, Indy needs a healthy George Hill to ensure victory in this series—and avoid becoming just the ninth team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 series lead. They need his ball-handling and passing to keep the Pacers' stodgy offense moving, and his outside shooting to keep opposing defenses honest. They need his length, athleticism and spatial smarts on the defensive end to disrupt the Knicks' pick-and-roll attack.
Heck, they need his mere presence to relegate D.J. Augustin back to the bench and re-solidify the rest of Indy's razor-thin rotation.
Unfortunately, having Hill suit up at all might be too much for the Pacers to ask at this point, given the NBA's new concussion protocols (per Mark Montieth of Pacers.com):
Based on language in NBA concussion policy it seems virtually impossible George Hill will play again this season.— Mark Montieth (@MarkMontieth) May 17, 2013
To be sure, Indy still owns the high ground in this series. They'll have two more shots at closing out New York, including once at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 18th. The Pacers were excellent at home throughout the regular season (30-11 record, plus-8.8 points per 100 possessions) and have been even better there in the 2013 playoffs (5-0 record, plus-15.6 points per 100 possessions), per NBA.com.
Can the Pacers close out the Knicks without George Hill?
Moreover, the Knicks didn't exactly blow the doors off the Hill-less Pacers in Game 5. Indy had every opportunity to steal a win at MSG, despite the aforementioned Hill-related issues, along with foul trouble for Paul George and Roy Hibbert and 14 missed free throws for the team as a whole. Indy's bigs can control the interior and clean the glass, especially with Tyson Chandler's fitness in question.
Perhaps the shifting of the series back to Indianapolis will be change enough to put the Pacers back on the winning track. Perhaps they'll be able to cut down on their own mistakes, make more of their free throws and squeeze steadier performances out of their oft-unreliable reserves, regardless of whether or not Hill's in the lineup.
But if Hill doesn't play in Game 6 and the Pacers suffer the same fate that befell them in Game 5, then George's "Leap" (or, at least, the narrative surrounding it) will be all but complete.
For better or, in Indy's case, for worse.
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