Without the kind of potent scorers that typically populate NBA contenders, the Indiana Pacers need someone to step up every night. The team may be devoid of great scorers, but it still needs great scoring performances to beat talented teams at the sport's highest level.
In Tuesday's 93-82 win over the New York Knicks, which expands Indiana's series lead to 3-1, that man was point guard George Hill. Often forgotten when the league's top point guard are discussed, Hill provided exactly what the Pacers needed to land a pivotal Game 4 win.
On a night when his teammates shot just 35 percent from the field, Hill hit 9 of his 14 attempts en route to a game-leading 26 points. His work on both ends of the court earned some serious praise from Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who said it was, "maybe the best game I've ever seen him play."
It's not the most statistically impressive game of Hill's career, but rarely has the 27-year-old seemed so in control of the game. The Pacers had the lead from start to finish, powered by an efficient 37 minutes from its lead guard. This all from a guy that shot 30 percent in the first three games of the series.
For the Pacers, these kinds of efforts are becoming a regular occurrence. It's not necessarily the same player in each game, but someone on the roster is throwing out a star-level effort in practically every game. In Game 3, it was Roy Hibbert's 24-point, 12-rebound explosion. In Game 1, you could point to D.J. Augustin's 16 points in 13 minutes.
Indiana still has a problem, and that's the absence of a truly great player. Practically every team that's won a title featured one of these players, and most of the remaining contenders boast a player of that caliber. The Pacers have Paul George, and while he's rapidly improving, it's easy to question if he's a championship-caliber star at 23 years old.
But the Pacers keep winning, because the role players keep stepping up. Whether it's Hill, Hibbert, Augustin or Lance Stephenson, Indiana is getting effort across the board that most teams can't match. How long will this last? It's hard to say, especially with the Miami Heat looming. But it's probably time we take these Pacers, and Hill, more seriously.
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