INDIANAPOLIS -Some will look at this Indiana Pacers roster and say they lack a “true” point guard. Ask those same folks to define the term and they would probably struggle to do so. They see George Hill and he doesn’t match the mythical idea they have created in their heads, so they dismiss the thought that he might actually be the perfect fit for this team.
Hill’s head coach and teammates were quick to lend their opinion on the debate after Monday night’s 98-84 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves and Hill’s best performance of the season to date.
“He’s (Hill) one beast of a point guard, Frank Vogel said after the game. “He likes to set people up and play unselfish a lot of the time, but he’s capable of exploding like he did tonight.”
Exploding is exactly what Hill did. Minnesota’s roster lacks a true rim protector and guards on the perimeter to contain a player able and willing to break down a defense via the dribble. Hill smelled blood in the water from the tip, as he looked to get into the paint for much of his 39 minutes on the court. The former IUPUI Jaguar finished with 26 points on 9 of 13 shooting, while leading the Pacers with seven assists and five steals.
“He (Hill) definitely came out with the mentality that he was going to attack whoever was guarding him,” Paul George said of Hill after pitching in 26 points of his own. “He’s a special player when he’s playing like that. Most nights, he has the advantage size wise. He has to look to exploit that.
Hill, in many ways, provides this Pacers team with every trait it needs out of the lead guard. “Caretaker” is often thrown around when describing his play; he keeps his turnovers down, avoids the risky play for the most part, and takes shots when the offense flows his way and not the other way around. It can be difficult to break away from those characteristics, the comfort level, when the quality of talent that surrounds Hill is apparent. Not to mention, his team has dropped just one game out of 14 this season.
“Definitely so,” Hill replied when asked if he defers more often than not due to the scoring abilities of his teammates. “I always look to pass first. Sometimes I give up my own shots to try and make a better shot for my teammates.”
But against Minnesota the goal changed. In a chippy game, one with plenty of whistles — both teams combined for 42 fouls — it was Hill’s aggressiveness that stood out. Which aggressive is exactly what his teammates want from him.
“They’ve been on me all week about it,” Hill said of the rest of the team. “’G, just be aggressive, be yourself, score the ball.’ I took that challenge and just tried to come out tonight, no matter makes or misses, and just be myself.”
“He understands spacing and ball movement and where to be,” George said of Hill. “He’s the one directing traffic, getting guys in the right spots. I think that’s what people miss. His IQ and knowledge of the game is up there.”
It was Indiana’s defense that clinched the game in the final quarter. Six minutes in to that deciding period, Minnesota had scored just two points before Kevin Martin knocked down a corner three. But by then, the Pacers had left their mark on the game, the defense turned up to a level few other clubs can reach, and the win was in hand.
“Our defense is special,” Vogel admitted. “I shake my head at what we are able to accomplish on the defensive end. This team (Minnesota) is a great offensive basketball team. We didn’t even keep our turnovers down and we were still able to keep them out of fast break points. To hold that team to six fast break points is a great effort.”
Hill’s fingerprints could be found on the defensive end as well. Tasked with guarding Ricky Rubio, “the head of the snake of their offensive attack,” as Vogel described the Spanish point guard, Hill held Rubio to just seven points on 3 of 9 shooting from the field.
Ultimately, Hill displayed what he’s capable of on Monday. He showed there’s more to him than just playing it safe and running a team that’s watering at the mouth for the top seed in the Eastern conference.
Vogel essentially called Hill the “forgotten man” after the win. But if the Pacers keep putting in performances like the one against Minnesota, they’ll attract more and more attention. Even their “caretaker” point guard, too.
Brandon Curry is the Pacers Beat Writer for the Indy Sports Report. Follow Brandon and ISR on Twitter.
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