INDIANAPOLIS – Two All-Stars, a point guard and a power forward, get it going. Two proud veterans, a point guard and a power forward, fire back.
David West and George Hill have been around too long, and have too much going on this season, to get caught up in the snubbery of All-Star roster limitations. But sometimes matchups and challenges do get personal, and when they sync up with the team’s agenda, special things can happen.
Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge will be representing the Portland Trail Blazers next weekend in New Orleans as members of the West All-Stars. Hill and West won’t – the Indiana Pacers instead will send Paul George and Roy Hibbert to the showcase event with the East All-Stars.
Still, Hill and West were determined Friday not to let the Blazers’ best get an early start, showing off for a national TV audience a week early on the Pacers’ court. And with shooting guard Lance Stephenson on the side in street clothes, his back still sore from the spectacularly scary tumble he took in Atlanta a few days earlier, and both Paul George and Hibbert misfiring at a disturbing rate, well, the chores fell to Hill and West.
“Just the next-man-up mentality,” Hill said after scoring a career-high 37 points in Indiana’s 118-113 overtime victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “All season long, we’ve kind of sat in the shadow because of the success we had. When things are not broke, you don’t fix it. All year long we’ve been riding on Paul and Lance and Roy, but tonight it was a struggle for them, so we knew the next man had to step up.”
Hill edged close to a triple-double with nine rebounds and eight assists. His 12 field goals were his most ever and he matched career-highs with 12 free throws and 11 makes.
West’s 30 points were his most this season and he grabbed 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double. It was the first game this season in which two Indiana players scored 30 points or more and, what d’ya know, neither of them was named Paul George.
“When I first walked in here I was yelling at everybody that I have a lot of energy today,” Hill said. “From 5 o’clock when we came here to start shooting – I don’t know what it was. I just felt different.”
Neither he nor West could have felt great at halftime. Aldridge (five years younger than West) scored 11 points in the first quarter and Lillard (four years younger than Hill) had 14 in the second. Portland was leading, 50-45, and the two Blazers were beating their counterparts 35-19. With the other three Indiana starters managing just 13 (Paul George was 2-for-8 and Hibbert had missed three of his four shots). Danny Granger, subbing for Stephenson, was making just his second start in what would become his longest (40:10) stint this season and didn’t have the legs to help much.
As Pacers coach Frank Vogel said: “We needed another attacker off the bounce.”
West made sure that Hill understood: It was going to be him.
“I wanted George to be aggressive, that was the key,” West said. “Sometimes he can kind of defer to get other guys going but, particularly with the way Lillard was playing in the first half, I just was fussing at him a little bit to get him to go. ‘Just be aggressive.’ When he plays like that, we’re pretty hard to beat.”
The game was billed as a classic clash between one of the league’s most potent offenses and its stingiest defense. That wasn’t going so well for Indiana, giving up 50 points and 49 field-goal attempts in that first half. It was time for the Pacers’ offense to lighten the load a little.
Said West: “One thing I learned playing with CP [Chris Paul] for [six] years was, great scoring point guards don’t like to play defense. When you put pressure on them to guard, it takes a little something out of them on the offensive end.
“We found a crack in their armor where we attacked Lillard up top. George was doing a good job of putting pressure on them to guard him. When we got switches, he made plays.”
As first Aldridge, then Lillard got into foul trouble, Hill forced the issue. He went early in the clock, pushing before Portland’s defense could get set. And he went straight at Aldridge again and again, with the Blazers’ star having to balance his own aggressiveness in order to stay on the floor.
West had his own fires burning. “You could see the look in David West’s eyes all night,” Vogel said. “He put the whole team on his back.”
Both Pacers had signature plays late in the thriller: Hill’s came near the end of regulation, Indiana down 103-100, when he made himself available after Paul George’s 3-point attempt to tie bounced off. Hibbert chased down an offensive rebound and shoveled it to Hill, who coolly drained his 3-pointer from the left wing.
West found himself near the lane in overtime, in Portland’s backcourt, when Aldridge started to lose his balance. “I was just trying to hang around to see where he was going to throw it,” West said. Aldridge’s off-balance pass hit West right in the hands and he immediately dunked it for a 111-107 lead with 1:37 left.
Lillard wasn’t done – he hit a pair of cold-blooded shots from the arc – but his 38 points weren’t enough. Nor was Aldridge’s 11 over his final 28 minutes, compared to his 11 in 12 to start. Over the second half plus overtime, Hill and West outscored the two Portland All-Stars 48-25.
“Sometimes,” Vogel said, “the best defense is to go back at the guy.”
Going back at All-Stars brought out the best in Hill and West.