David West certainly looked, and played, like a man who had left it all on the floor.
Including his voice.
What caused the raspy whispers in the postgame locker room?
“Screaming at George Hill,” he croaked, shaking his head. “I’ve been on George the last few weeks or so because these point guards have been coming in here making it a point to attack him and I have all the confidence he can compete at just as high a level as any of these other point guards in the NBA. Tonight he showed it.
“He didn’t do anything special, he was just aggressive. At times we’ve got to yell at him and scream at him just to be aggressive.”
The Pacers have learned over the past few years that when West speaks, it’s a good idea to listen.
When he screams, well, it’s time to do that Hill did to the Portland Trail Blazers Friday night: a career-high 37 points on 12-for-19 shooting, a near triple-double with nine rebounds and eight assists, a 3-pointer in the closing seconds that forced overtime, and the drive that put the Pacers ahead to stay in a dazzling 118-113 shootout.
“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 today.”
The past few weeks have been trying for Hill, whose role in the offense generally is subservient to the ebbs and flows of Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Where most teams ask the point guard to create plays for teammates, the Pacers ask Hill to get the ball across, initiate the offense, usually by passing to either George or Stephenson, and then move without the ball.
This leads to modest statistics that lead some to question his productivity and, ultimately, importance to the team.
But on this night, with Stephenson out with a sore lower back, the fifth Beatle stepped to center stage and stole the show.
“George Hill’s a special player,” said Frank Vogel. “He’s probably our most underrated guy. David West could argue that, as well. To see him have a breakout game like that with Lance out, knowing he had to pick up some of the offensive load, it was good to see.
“George takes some flak sometimes because his assist totals or scoring totals may not be all that high. If he’s playing with two spot-up shooters on the wing, he can do what he did tonight. We’ve got two elite playmakers on the wing with Lance Stephenson and Paul George so a lot of times he’s off the ball. But he’s capable of doing what he did tonight and he knew with Lance out he was going to have to be much more assertive and in particular with the way (Damian) Lillard was going, that he wanted to go back at him.”
Portland’s quiet point guard, about to become the first player in league history to participate in every event of the All-Star Weekend, did a little bit of everything against the Pacers, including a whole lot of scoring with 38 points, not to mention 11 assists.
But he wasn’t exactly roaming free. Lillard made tough shot after tough shot, nailing step-back jumpers, almost all contested.
“Sometimes the best defense is to go back at the guy,” Vogel said, “and to George Hill’s credit, that’s what he did.”
West was also a major player in the outcome, producing a season-high 30 points and 11 rebounds, missing just three of his 16 shots, getting the better of Portland’s other All-Star, LaMarcus Aldridge.
As the combination of fatigue and adjusting defenses has stalled Paul George, West has stepped forward to fill the offensive void.
In the last seven games, George has shot 38-for-126 overall (.302) including 8-for-41 (.195) from the 3-point line. He was 5-for-23 against Portland, although he did contribute two big shots down the stretch – a step-back three that put the Pacers up 100-99 late in regulation and two more buckets in overtime.
In the last eight, West has averaged 19 points and shot 63-for-117 (.538).
“You could just see the look in David West’s eyes all night,” Vogel said. “He just put the whole team on his back. Whether he was making a shot or putting the ball in somebody else’s hands, his will carried us to the victory.”
So did his voice.
Which begged the question: does anybody ever need to yell at West?
“Sometimes they do,” he said with a smile. “Sometimes.”