MEMPHIS, Tenn. – When Indiana Pacers guard George Hill knocked down four big free throws in the final 50 seconds of the Pacers’ Eastern Conference-evening Game 2 win Friday night, one of George’s biggest fans was glued to a TV set some 1,000 miles away.
“I watched the whole game,” San Antonio Spurs point guard and Hill’s former teammate Tony Parker said following Saturday morning’s shootaround in preparation for tonight’s Game 3 of the Western Conference finals (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). “We’ve been texting the whole playoffs. I always follow George. He’s like my little brother, so I always text him.”
The Spurs drafted Hill out of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis with the 26th overall pick in 2008. In three seasons with the Spurs, the combo guard quickly became a reliable reserve behind Parker and Manu Ginobili, as well as a key fill-in starter at times when either Parker or Ginobili were injured.
So it came as a surprise when the Spurs pulled off the 2011 draft-day trade that sent Hill to his hometown Pacers in exchange for San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard, who Indiana selected with the 15th pick. The trade is a rare one in that both sides got exactly what they wanted. Hill took over as the Pacers’ starting point guard at the end of last season and has been a central figure in Indiana’s rise and its run to the East finals.
Meanwhile, Leonard has fit into the Spurs’ plans flawlessly as the starting small forward, and is lauded by coach Gregg Popovich for improving the team’s defense and rebounding this season, while also becoming an offensive threat from almost any area on the floor.
In Friday’s Game 2 against the Miami Heat, Hill scored 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting in a team-high 41 minutes. With the game tied 93-93 and 48.9 seconds to go, Hill stepped to the free throw line for two crucial shots. He had missed all three of his previous attempts in the game, including a pair with about eight minutes to go in the game that could have put Indiana up five, but instead led to LeBron James giving Miami a one-point lead with a 3-pointer.
This time Hill nailed both free throws to give Indiana a 95-93 lead. He did it again with 8.3 seconds to go, this time sealing the game with a four-point cushion.
Parker said he texted Hill afterward.
“We’ve been in a lot of contact lately, [him] asking me advice and stuff like that,” Parker said. “So I try to do my job and be a good big brother. I am very proud of him and he’s playing great basketball.”
Parker was asked if he might regret giving Hill some of this advice if both teams advance to the NBA Finals.
“No,” Parker laughed. “I love George. He’s fine.”