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May 15, 2013

LOPRESTI: Hometown hero Hill gives Pacers another weapon

Indiana has different star on near-nightly basis

INDIANAPOLIS — Next appearing in the post-game interview room for the Indiana Pacers will be . . .

Well, that’s been the intriguing part about this current joyride in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They’ve been changing stars of the game like they change socks. Four games, four different leading scorers, and no wonder some of them require a little interview room orientation. They’re not all that used to the place.

“Where,” George Hill asked upon entering the room after 26 points in Game 4, “do I sit?”

That’d be the chair in front of the microphone, where he could explain how he had become the latest Pacer to torment the New York Knicks.

“We know we’re a deep team,” he was saying. “It could be anybody up here.”

If not Paul George, then David West, or Roy Hibbert, who mentioned after Game 3 he had never been to a playoff podium in his life and wondered what he should wear. It was like listening to someone talk about his first prom.

Who next, Boomer the mascot? Leading this team in scoring has become an equal opportunity position, but at the moment, Hill is the poster Pacer for Indiana’s 3-1 series lead.

If Indianapolis is to rekindle a love affair for its NBA team, why not big plays from a hometown product? Hill went to college at IUPUI, 11 blocks from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and Broad Ripple High School, maybe 20 minutes away. He has donated gobs of money -- and even more impressively, gobs of time -- to youth basketball in the city. He understands what a long playoff ride would mean.

“It’s Pacers basketball coming back to Indiana the way it used to be back in the day,” he said. “The way this crowd filled up the arena and you can barely hear your plays, that’s what it’s all about. It just shows Indianapolis is a great basketball city, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”

If the Pacers are to stay true to their stated team-first mentality, what better sight than Game 4’s leading scorer perfectly willing to spend extra minutes on the bench in the fourth quarter, standing and applauding his mates as they padded the lead on the Knicks?

“I told Coach [Frank] Vogel to let it ride out,” Hill said. “If our team is playing well, there’s no need for me to go back in and mess it up.”

If Indiana is to be a team that thrives by each player taking advantage of opportunity, why not 26 points from a guy who in the first three games of the series, couldn’t have hit the Ohio River from a barge? Hill was 14-for-44 those three games. Not bad, if you’re shooting blindfolded.

He was 9-for-14 in Game 4, making nearly every big shot Indiana needed. “Maybe the best game I’ve ever seen him play,” Vogel said.

Who among Hoosiers would not appreciate such a night from a native son? One comes to mind. Knicks coach Mike Woodson went to Broad Ripple, too. He has been pushed to the brink by a fellow alum.

But so it goes these days for the Pacers, who never know where the next boffo performance will come from. “We just continue to be tied together,” West said. “But we’re not going to overreact to this. We haven’t really done anything yet.”

They will with one more victory. “I feel like we have to go into New York like we’re about to get eliminated,” Hill said of Thursday’s Game 5 in Madison Square Garden.

The interview room is waiting, if yet another Indiana Pacer wants to take his turn leading the way. Directions supplied, upon request.

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