Expected rust not the sole takeaway from Hill's Sixers debut


Before George Hill’s first game since late January, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said the team would ease the 34-year-old back into action.

That apparently meant guarding Stephen Curry on Monday night in the fourth quarter when 29-footers looked like free throws. Hill asked for the assignment and Rivers was on board, throwing a mix of defenders at Curry that included his brother Seth, Danny Green and Hill. With Ben Simmons (illness) out, as well as Tobias Harris (right knee soreness), the Sixers lacked a no-brainer Plan A.

None of the team’s efforts to stop Curry worked very well.

Curry scored 49 points in the Warriors’ 107-96 win over the Sixers, the fifth time he’s topped 40 in April. 

He scored eight of those points on Hill, according to the NBA’s tracking data, on 3-for-5 shooting. Hill blocked Curry twice late in the third quarter and also chipped in two points and two assists.

Overall, Hill’s performance in his return from right thumb surgery surpassed Rivers’ expectations. 

“He actually looked great overall,” Rivers said of the Sixers' trade deadline-day acquisition. “He’s a little rusty, but he’s just so darn smart and he did so many little things. I’m very happy to have him, let me put it that way. He’s going to really help us. Tonight we were flat. We didn’t have a lot of juice, for whatever reason — and that happens. I thought he was actually pretty good.”

Hill was less generous in assessing his play. 

“I don’t think I played well,” he said. “It was great to be back out there with the guys, back on the court after three months off. Got a little way to go. Get in shape. But I like the style, I like the opportunity. Just got to take advantage of it.”

Why did he want the impossible task of defending a player who, after Monday night’s three-point deluge, has now averaged exactly 40 points over his last 11 games? 

“I just love to compete,” he said. “No matter what, I’m going to compete defensively, play as hard as I can, play the right way. I like the challenge. I think he’s on a historic run right now. He’s making tough shots from everywhere on the floor and he’s playing at that All-Star, that MVP-caliber (level) that he’s been at for many years. I like the challenge and I like the opportunity. Just trying to get back in shape.”

We’ll likely know a lot more in a week or two about Hill’s fit on the Sixers. At that point his minutes should be unlimited and, the Sixers hope, all his teammates should be healthy. 

On the night of his debut, Hill shared the floor most with Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton and Dwight Howard, and he was usually one of four guards on the floor. Mike Scott started but only played 14 scoreless minutes, while Anthony Tolliver did not appear despite Harris’ injury. 

The four-guard looks were not solely a byproduct of a 6-foot-8 and a 6-foot-11 star being out, according to Rivers. 

“That’s something we’re going to start doing,” he said. “Having George Hill, he’ll give us an extra guard. You’ll see that a lot. We weren’t very good at it, honestly, even though we did make a run with it that one stretch. I thought we didn’t do a very good job in the first half with it, personally. But it’s absolutely where we want to go with our second unit.”

There are a heap of theoretical benefits to more time with four guards sharing the court, among them a decreased burden on Milton to create offense, improved shooting and spacing to counteract that Howard is not at all a stretch five and enhanced defensive versatility.

It’s too early to say whether any of those potential positives will come to be. Hill had two turnovers against Golden State, one on a lob beyond Howard’s reach, the other on a play where he drove baseline and expected Tyrese Maxey to stay in the corner instead of drifting up toward the wing. Hill and the Sixers would like to eliminate those sorts of mistakes soon, though they recognize it likely won’t happen with a snap of the fingers. 

Even on a night where things that used to be second nature didn’t always click, Hill was appreciative. 

“It was very tough but things can be a lot worse,” he said of his rehab process. “I’m very optimistic. I don’t like to complain. I think things happen for a reason. Injuries, it’s just a roadblock in the road. But at the same time, you get to experience different things in life, look at it from the outside looking in. It gives you a chance to mentor some of the young guys. … Talk to them, be more around them and try to help them out along the way. You can’t take anything for granted. 

“When you’re playing the game, your mentality is always so high and you start thinking the best because you’re on your high horse. But when you’re not playing, it gives you a different perspective of just being grateful in all situations.”

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