INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Orlando’s Jameer Nelson and Indiana’s George Hill engaged in an impressive scoring duel during the third quarter of Game 5 in their first-round playoff series.
Nelson scored 15 points in the period and Hill scored nine. Orlando led by two heading into the fourth quarter, and it appeared to be anyone’s game.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel shook things up when he brought Darren Collison off the bench. The third-year pro dominated Nelson in the fourth quarter of Indiana’s 105-87 victory. Collison had 15 points the final 12 minutes while Nelson had two. Indiana clinched the series 4-1 and now awaits the winner of the Miami-New York series.
The Pacers say they have two starting point guards, but one just happens to come off the bench. Hill and Collison bring different skill sets, allowing Vogel to tinker with his lineups.
In this case, Hill said he and Collison planned to make Nelson tired.
“He expended so much energy on the other end trying to keep his team in it, which he did a great job, but at the other end we knew we had to wear him down a little bit on both ends and make him guard us,” Hill said. “I think towards the end of the game, he was spending so much energy down there (on offense) and then chasing us down at the other end, his legs got worn out.”
Collison started 60 of Indiana’s 66 regular-season games before a groin injury benched him down the stretch. Hill stepped seamlessly and eventually and took Collison’s starting job. Before the Orlando series, Vogel said the Pacers would need both to be healthy for Indiana to be at its best. Collison proved his value with 19 points on Tuesday. Hill, Indiana’s No. 3 scorer in the series, added 15 points.
Collison didn’t like his demotion, but he handled it well.
“Just from a competitive standpoint, you know you’re a starter and you come off the bench, it’s very difficult,” he said. “But it’s something I can’t control with my injury. That was the most frustrating thing — I want to be out there and help my teammates any way I can. You can’t have a negative mindset. You have to be positive from the get-go.”
The 6-foot-2 Hill can create off the dribble and knock down open shots. He’s also a clutch performer — he made the game-winning free throws in Game 4 in Orlando. The Pacers have an 11-3 record with him as the starter, including the playoffs. He is averaging 14 points and shooting 45 percent in those starts.
Collison, just 6-foot tall, uses quickness and elusiveness to put opponents on their heels. Indiana’s assist leader during the regular season had 23 assists and one turnover in the series against the Magic.
Collison’s defense against Nelson was a key element to Indiana’s defensive dominance throughout the series.
“It’s something we’ve been talking to him about all year,” Vogel said. “Obviously, when his role changed and was going to come off the bench and he understood that if his minutes were going to be a little bit shorter, he could expend a little more energy doing that kind of ball pressure.”
Vogel was happy to see Collison have such a special moment after fighting through the injury.
“It’s got to be very rewarding for him,” Vogel said. “He has a great deal of pride in his abilities. He’s led our team all year in determination and the will to win and the desire to win. I’m just so happy for the kid. He’s one of the best kids ever coached.”
Hill also was pleased to see Collison’s success. The two have supported each other from the beginning, an example of the positive vibe throughout the team’s locker room.
“Darren is a competitor,” Hill said. “He’s been down on himself a little bit, not scoring the ball the way he wanted to score it. Tonight to come in and really get it going from the field, leading that team out there with the second unit, even with the first unit, you’ve got to tip your hat to him.
Collison was a key reason Hill wasn’t worried that the Magic led heading into the fourth quarter.
“We knew it was a game of runs,” Hill said. “We’re up all game, they made a great run. We knew we still had a run left in us. D.C. came in and really pushed the tempo a little bit, got his shot going. I got my stuff going in the third, which helped us a little bit. Just a great collective team effort.”