Pobrecito Pau. (Getty Images)
I guess the Los Angeles Lakers didn't catch the ending of that epic Pacers-Raptors tilt on Halloween, because if they did, they'd know that you should probably try to keep George Hill out of the paint with the game winding down. They didn't on Tuesday night, and they paid for it:
Hill's smooth righty lay-in fell through with 0.1 seconds left on the clock, giving him an Indiana-high 19 points and leaving the Lakers with no time to respond, clinching a 79-77 road win in an ugly game that saw the two teams combine to shoot 53-for-155 (34.2 percent) from the floor, 10-for-47 (21.3 percent) from 3-point range and 40-for-70 (57.1 percent) from the foul line. (As Nathan S. wrote at Pacers blog Indy Cornrows, "The Lakers struggled all night, but the Pacers didn't exactly give a lot of life-altering inspiration themselves.")
But while much of the Tuesday night action at Staples Center was offensive to the eye, the Pacers' final play was pretty, if simple, and very effective.
After a timeout following a Kobe Bryant 3-pointer that tied the game at 77 with 24.5 seconds left, the Pacers revealed what coach Frank Vogel wanted for the team's final possession. Swingman Paul George triggered the inbounds to Hill, who was cutting away from the basket and Lakers small forward Metta World Peace, a step-slow defender whose size and strength advantage was presumably designed to muscle Hill away from his preferred spot on the floor. Hill's four teammates — George, center Ian Mahinmi (in the game because starter Roy Hibbert had fouled out with 2:27 remaining), power forward David West and shooting guard Lance Stephenson — all cut across the baseline, flattening out along the boundary beneath the basket, leaving Hill all alone up top against World Peace.
With a little more than eight seconds remaining, George cut across the key under the basket and curled around West, representing that he would be coming to the ball for a last-second attempt over shorter defender Bryant. But that was a feint; after curling, George sprinted back across the lane to the left wing as West came up the side of the lane toward the top of the key and set a quick pick. With less than five seconds left and the ball 25-plus feet away from the hoop, though, Hill couldn't wait for West, and dribbled right around him before the screen could really be set. World Peace stepped up toward Hill but pivoted to stay with West, always dangerous in the pick-and-pop game off a slipped screen, which handed the point guard off to Gasol on the switch.
With West drawing World Peace to the left elbow, George drawing Bryant's attention beyond the arc as he slid toward the left corner and Stephenson parked in the right corner to occupy Lakers point guard Chris Duhon, Hill had nothing but open space and opportunity to drive the right side of the lane against Gasol:
Plenty of room there, Mr. Hill.
Even if the Spaniard was in full fighting trim and wasn't playing through tendinitis in both knees, this is a race he wouldn't have much chance of winning. All that remained was for Hill to get the ball up over the outstretched arm of rotating shot-blocker Dwight Howard, which he did beautifully:
Juuuuust high enough. (Getty Images)
... and get the friendly roll, which he did, much to the chagrin of the Laker faithful.
As Kurt Helin pointed out at ProBasketballTalk, the play was poorly defended by the Lakers — World Peace basically abandoned the ball at the outset, the slow-footed Gasol would have been much better off staying a step or two closer to the basket than he did in pursuing West on the initial screen, and Howard was (as he has been for most of the season while working his way into form after offseason back surgery) a step slow on his rotation to contest Hill's layup. But laying it all at the feet of the Lakers defense would give short shrift to a nice, simple design by Vogel and an excellent individual effort by Hill.
The successful high-arcing floater was Hill's second in the game's final minute, as his prior attempt with 35.1 seconds left put the Pacers up three, setting the stage for Bryant's long ball on the other end and some last-possession heroics. After the game, Vogel told Pacers beat man Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star just how much time Hill has put into adding that shot to his arsenal:
"[Hill] works on the floater more than anybody I've ever met," Vogel said. "That's his money shot. He won the Toronto game for us and both those shots won the game for us tonight."
With Danny Granger on the shelf recovering from a left knee injury, George (5-for-13 from the field on Monday, just under 41 percent on the season) not quite yet ready for prime time and West's efficient but not explosive face-up elbow jumper game not necessarily conducive to creating high-percentage late-game looks, the onus in Indiana for creating with the clock ticking down has fallen to Hill. And while he hasn't quite been a killer in the clutch on the season — a 37 percent mark from the floor and just over 23 points per 48 minutes of "clutch" play, according to 82games.com's numbers, which would've rank him as about the league's 50th most-potent "clutch" scorer a year ago — as he told Greg Beacham of The Associated Press, outcomes like Tuesday's are a dream come true for him:
"It's something you always dream about, to hit game-winners," Hill said. "So to do that and help this team win a game just makes it that much better."
And doing so in a pretty attractive way doesn't hurt, either.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to check out Hill's game-winner elsewhere, thanks to our friends at the National Basketball Association.