George Hill's Rite of Playoff Passage Continues Against Steve Nash

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IMay 5, 2010

DALLAS - APRIL 27:  (L-R) Tim Duncan #21 and George Hill #3 of the San Antonio Spurs sit on the bench during a 103-81 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 27, 2010 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Fourteen months ago, George Hill was the one abusing Steve Nash.

The Spurs, playing without Manu Ginobili and the usual answers, leaned on an intriguing rookie in crunch time to defend the Suns' All-Star.

Hill forced Nash into three fourth-quarter turnovers and two critical misses from behind the arc. He also made the biggest layup of the game with less than two minutes left.

Nash, then, did not attack the basket as if he was Tony Parker.

As the Spurs-Suns prepare for game two, Hill must apply his latest lesson the way he did in round one.

Jason Kidd opened the playoffs with a near triple-double, dishing dimes and sinking dagger three-pointers.

Hill was not on the floor for the worst of it because Gregg Popovich had benched him in disgust.

One missed rotation in the second half was all Popovich needed to make his point.

Sit down Georgie, and watch players who know how to do this.

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From Game Two on, Hill attached himself to Kidd's hip and outplayed him on both ends.

Kidd shot in the 30s, and the Spurs beat the Mavs in six.

Hill drilled a three-pointer in the series-tying victory to stop the bleeding. He introduced himself to the Mavericks as a problem with 17 points when the scene shifted to the AT&T Center.

Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker started a bricklaying company in game four, and Hill became an unlikely star with 29 points.

Hill is learning how to win in April and May as each member of the Big Three once did.

Nash took over Kidd's role as teacher on Monday night.

He heard the declarations that Bruce Bowen's absence meant he could no longer hide on defense, that he was now a sitting duck in an open field. With every drive to the hoop in Monday's opener, Nash forced Hill to switch roles.

The punisher became the abashed student. The assassin lost his rifle less than two minutes after beginning his hunt.

Nash ended with 33 points and 10 assists, his highest scoring playoff outing since May 6, 2007. His opponent that day: the Spurs.

That day, he left the game with a bloody nose and a bruised confidence that he would not recover.

Monday, he left with something new: a Game One victory.

Popovich will assume the professor role tonight, and he might continue Hill's education with an obvious move.

Nash cannot handle Parker, nor can any other Sun, and starting the Frenchman would change the dynamic from the opening tip. Hill will come off the bench.

That makes sense.

The Spurs' sideline maestro should throw sense out the window and stick with what worked against the Mavericks. He should start Hill again and trust he will make the same improvements.

If Hill cannot solve Nash's riddle as he did Kidd's, the Spurs might not win the series. Hill seemed to respond to Popovich's unwavering support mere weeks ago.

He stunk in his first playoff start, his sprained ankle taking a backseat to his ruptured ego and inexperience. He kept his spot, and Parker remained a reserve, in the team's most important game of the season.

The Spurs won 102-88 in large part because the two guards found a way to make the most of their unfamiliar roles.

San Antonio doesn't need to win this contest as much, but a victory would restore order to the Alamo City's universe.

Alvin Gentry and Nash will expect Parker to play first. Nash will prepare to face a guard who won't be as forgiving or as off-the-mark.

Parker will finish two of nine from the field tonight only if the Suns hire Tonya Harding to break his legs.

Game One made something clear. The Suns have improved defensively but not enough to keep the Spurs from getting easier shots than in 2007 and 2008.

Duncan did not need to bag a pressure triple two nights ago. He just needed to make what was there. His supporting cast misfired.

Keith Bogans and Roger Mason Jr. took easier three-point shots in the fourth quarter than Jason Richardson.

One team mustered easier baskets and yet encountered more difficulty.

The Spurs don't need to stop the run so much as take advantage of it.

Gentry should know as well as anyone that the Spurs can execute fastbreaks, too.

That's why Popovich's expected response should start with the unexpected. He should send a message to Hill, who in turn must deliver one to Nash.

Go get em' Georgie. We can't win unless you play better.

For once, Charles Barkley feigned prognostication faculty. The TNT analyst had never seen Nash as aggressive going to the cup, and he predicted a quick return to normalcy.

Hill needs his coach's confidence to find his own. Parker can still bludgeon Nash and the Suns in the endgame.

His new makeshift reserve role worked versus Dallas, a better defensive team.

Kidd also boasted the defensive moxie Nash never will.

Nothing that happened before Monday seems to matter to anyone on Gentry's roster.

Popovich should flashback to fourteen months ago when he tried something crazy.

Hill should start, even after Nash shredded and embarrassed him.

He established himself as a quick study, and will learn best by doing, not watching.

Insanity, then, might make the most sense.

It wouldn't be the first time in this series.

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