Hill needs to step up for Cavaliers to avoid 3-0 hole

NBA.com Global on May 20, 2018 07:38 AM
Hill needs to step up for Cavaliers to avoid 3-0 hole
Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier (12) makes a dribble move as Cleveland Cavaliers guard George Hill (3) tries to get through a pick set by Celtics forward Marcus Morris (13) during the third quarter of Game 1 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference Finals, Sunday, May 13, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

CLEVELAND -- George Hill is a college graduate now, so surely he understands the predicament in which he and his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates find themselves.

Down 0-2 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference championship series, the Cavaliers have looked slow and lacked energy against the younger, quicker and so far feistier Boston Celtics. Nowhere has that mismatch been more obvious than in the backcourt, where Hill and J.R. Smith have been not just outplayed but rendered irrelevant by the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.

In Boston’s two victories, Brown and Rozier combined for 72 points, 26 rebounds and 14 assists while making 29 of their 60 shots, including 8-for-24 on three-pointers. Hill and Smith? They’ve put up 12 points, six rebounds and three assists. They’ve taken 24 shots and made only five, including just one of their 11 shots from the arc.

Considering the Cavaliers have been outscored in the series so far 215-177, the 60-point disparity between the starting backcourts stands as Exhibit A in explaining Cleveland’s tough spot.

Can the Cavs’ guards flip the script? If they don’t, they’ll face outrageous odds against them – NBA teams that fall behind 0-3 in best-of-seven series have gone 0-131 in playoff history.

If they do, or if they even come close, they’ll need better production and efficiency from Hill. Smith, after all, is streaky and unpredictable in the best of times – and these hardly have been the best of times for the 32-year-old gunner.

Smith remains helpful defensively, contributing to a game plan focused heavily on Boston’s Jayson Tatum through the first two games. But the man nicknamed “Swish” has been mostly “Clang,” missing 14 of his 16 field goal attempts, including 0-for-7 on three-pointers. His petulant shove of Al Horford for a flagrant 1 foul in the fourth quarter of Game 2 all but cinched that victory for the Celtics with the four points they reaped.

Smith always packs the potential to get hot, which can carry Cleveland for stretches and rouse the home crowd at Quicken Loans Arena. Hill, however, is the teammate who – if helping out star LeBron James is essential, and it is – can offer the most significant and sustained assistance.

It’s one thing for Hill to boost his individual numbers. And, at 4.0 points and 37.5 percent shooting, there’s plenty of room for improvement. But it’s just as important that the 10-year veteran runs the offense at the quicker pace coach Tyronn Lue craves, creates opportunities in pick-and-rolls with Kevin Love and others, eases some of the ball-handling burden on James and provides the long-wingspan defense on the perimeter that’s been such a part of his NBA portfolio.

“He’s another added ball handler, another guy with a high basketball IQ that’s been in big games,” James said of Hill this postseason. “It helps to have that out on the floor to be able to create not only for himself ... but just being able to create for others as well.”

The “been in big games” line on Hill’s resume is what was supposed to distinguish him from the other new faces Cleveland acquired at the league’s trade deadline. Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. all arrived with little (Hood) or no (Clarkson, Nance) playoff experience.

Hill, by contrast, had appeared in 83 postseason games, mostly with Indiana and more than every other Cavaliers player except James, Smith and Kyle Korver. That experience was supposed to be an asset and, for a spell, it was. Hill missed three games in the first round series against Indiana with a back injury but came up big when he returned for Game 7. In the sweep of Toronto in the East semifinals, he averaged 10.3 points on 53.3 percent shooting.

But Hill – who returned to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis last weekend to pick up his new completed liberal arts degree and speak at the school’s graduation – hasn’t given the Cavs the stability they sought. Overall, he has averaged 8.6 points, 1.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists, and his 11.1 player efficiency rating is his lowest in the playoffs since his rookie season (9.8).

“I'm trying to figure it out myself," Hill said. "I think a little bit of just trying to be more involved offensively, trying to be more involved defensively, not waiting until a play is possibly called and things like that to go do it. Make some things happen defensively where I can get active and get some easy baskets or crash the boards and taking it coast to coast and things like that.”

He added: "I've just got to be more assertive."

Beginning now with Game 3 or perhaps never for Hill and the Cavs.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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