Hill leads Pacers to victory over Timberwolves
By Cliff Brunt, The Sports Xchange
Minnesota 84 Indiana 98
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers unveiled yet another weapon capable of carrying their scoring load.
Guard George Hill scored a season-high 26 points to help Indiana beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 98-84 on Monday night.
Hill became the fourth player to at least tie for the team lead in scoring in a game this season. The point guard said he'd been holding back a bit while deferring to others, but his teammates told him to stop.
"My teammates just want me to be aggressive," he said. "They've been on me all week about, 'G, be aggressive, be yourself, score the ball.' That's what I've been doing since high school and college. I took that challenge."
Forward Paul George also scored 26 points and forward David West added 13 points for the Pacers (13-1), who won their fourth straight and improved on their franchise-best start.
George said Hill's performance is another example of what makes the Pacers so dangerous.
"On any given night, we've got different guys that can carry us offensively, and you don't see that," he said. "You don't see that across the league. You always have that one guy who stands out. But here, we have a team. And that's the great thing about us. We don't care who has the hot hand, we just make sure we keep feeding the hot hand. Everybody's going to get their opportunity."
Minnesota forward Kevin Love had 20 points and 17 rebounds, but he made just six of 20 field goals. Guard Kevin Martin scored 18 points and center Nikola Pekovic had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves (8-8), who got off to a fast start this season but now have lost four of five.
Martin said Minnesota's loss was more about the Pacers than the Timberwolves.
"They're a pretty good team, you know," Martin said. "They've got a big goal in mind, and they're doing what they need to attain that goal come June."
The Pacers got the best of the battle of wills. Indiana entered the game leading the league in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense while the Timberwolves were third in scoring. Minnesota had season lows in points and field-goal percentage (.326).
"We just didn't play very well offensively, turned it over too many times, missed a lot of shots," Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. "They're very physical, and you have to play through it."
The Pacers shot 50 percent from the field in the first half but led just 48-46. Hill scored 18 points while Love had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Guard Lance Stephenson was scoreless in the first half, but he scored six points early in the third quarter to help the Pacers take a 58-52 lead.
Minnesota rallied and took the lead on free throws by Martin. George drove and was fouled, and the call drew a standing ovation from a frustrated home crowd that had seen a large disparity in foul calls and free-throw attempts in Minnesota's favor up to that point.
George made both free throws, then he got into the open court after a steal and threw down a wicked windmill dunk.
"He made a great play with a steal, then put the icing on the cake with the dunk," Hill said. "It gives us a little motivation. It gives us that motivation to go harder and stronger."
Shortly thereafter, George hit West with a behind-the-back pass for an assist and a 71-66 lead. The Pacers led 73-68 at the end of the period.
George opened the fourth quarter with a baseline dunk then scored on a floater to expand the lead to nine.
Minnesota went scoreless for the first 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, but when the Timberwolves finally scored, George answered with a 3-pointer. Center Ian Mahinmi followed with a three-point play to give Indiana an 85-70 lead and the Pacers cruised from there.
"That's what superstars do," Hill said of George's push. "He's on his way to being a superstar in this league. When times got tough, he made some big plays and put us on his back."
The Pacers said there's no chance of complacency setting in. Their success has left them nit-picking and searching for things to improve.
"We've got a lot of things to work on," Hill said. "We're not where we want to be. We still have a loss, so we're not perfect. We've been down a lot this season, so that shows we're not perfect again. I think we can get better offensively and defensively. I think we can share the ball a little better; we can move it, we can space the floor a little better."
NOTES: Minnesota F Robbie Hummel played college ball at nearby Purdue. He entered the game in the first quarter and drew cheers. ... Pacers F Danny Granger still hasn't played this season. He has a strained left calf, and the team is being cautious with him. ... The Pacers entered the day as the only team in the league holding opponents under 40 percent shooting. ... Indiana coach Frank Vogel was issued a technical foul in the second quarter for arguing with officials following what he considered a flop by Timberwolves F Dante Cunningham.