The moment Jordan Hill walked on the court, the fans at Staples Center greeted him with puzzled looks. The moment Hill walked off the court in the Lakers’ 112-104 double-overtime victory Sunday over the Oklahoma City Thunder, fans greeted him with cheers.
Oh, only everything.
He checked into the game totaling 11 points and five rebounds in the last five weeks after the Lakers acquired him from Houston for Derek Fisher and a first-round pick. Hill left the game posting 14 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
Hill checked into the game because Lakers Coach Mike Brown thought of the idea at 2 a.m. Saturday after their flight from San Antonio, leading many (including yours truly) to believe Brown was just needlessly shuffling the rotation again. Hill left the game making Brown look a genius and everyone else, including yours truly, a little silly.
Hill checked into the game because Andrew Bynum showed minimal effort on defense and the boards. Brown wanted to see if Hill would respond to the challenge despite minimal practice time and sitting out 13 games because of a sprained medial-collateral ligament in his right knee. Hill showed such awareness on pick-and-roll defense that Brown boasted afterward that “Jordan Hill’s activity at the point on the screen was better than all of our bigs combined.”
The result: It appears Brown will feature Hill more in the rotation.
“Jordan is going to play,” Brown said, and that probably means less playing time for Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy.
Only days earlier, Lakers development coach Phil Handy said of Hill: “If he’s healthy and had the opportunity to learn the system, he can help this team.”
But who knows how this will pan out? It was fitting that Handy described Hill as “another version of Josh.” Consider that McRoberts immediately showed promise with his energy before fizzling out partly because Brown reduced his minutes and partly because McRoberts didn’t offer more than hustle points. Murphy soon became a non-factor too once his shot became inconsistent.
But credit Hill for seizing the moment against Oklahoma City. It clearly showed he lacked awareness on offensive and defensive sets because of missing practice time due to his injury. But he compensated for it by relying on hustle, posting six points and four rebounds in his first nine minutes in the second quarter.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Hill said about his lack of playing time. “But things happen. You can’t mess up a team’s chemistry, and I understand, that’s why I wanted to stay ready, stay working and whenever my time is called just perform.”
Also credit Brown for believing in his decision. The coach conceded that there was “no rhyme or reason” he threw Hill out there, and that’s why many, including myself, wondered about the sub. But Brown should be praised for sticking with him in the fourth quarter and subsequent overtimes when inserting Bynum back into the lineup would’ve been the safe route. Instead, Brown stuck with Hill since he remained effective.
That approach paid off. At those moments, Hill provided boundless energy in grabbing eight rebounds. That included two consecutive boards that led to Pau Gasol’s 19-foot jumper and Steve Blake’s three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 102-99 lead with 3:12 remaining.
“I just went out there and had fun,” Hill said. “I did what I had to do, stick to my game and helped my team come out with a huge win for us.”
— Mark Medina The Times’ Melissa Rohlin contributed to this report