SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Before the Spurs finished off the Dallas Mavericks, coach Gregg Popovich confronted George Hill before Game 6.
“So Georgie, what are we going to get tonight?” Popovich asked. “The George Hill that’s in attack mode, or the George Hill that is trying to make sure everyone is happy?”
The way the Western Conference semifinals are going with Phoenix, it’s a conversation Popovich hopes Hill will remember.
San Antonio returned home Thursday trailing the Suns 2-0 — the most commanding lead Phoenix has built in a decade of postseason misery against the Spurs. The Suns have lost four consecutive playoff series to San Antonio since 2003, and Steve Nash has never gotten past the four-time NBA champions in six tries in his career.
Heading into Game 3 in San Antonio on Friday night, the Suns are already halfway to revenge.
“Our theme against these guys is, ‘No way, they will not go quietly in the night,'” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said Thursday. “And they won’t. We understand that going down there. We understand that we have to play at a real high level to try to get a game down there.”
Fourteen teams in NBA history have climbed back from a 0-2 deficit, among them the Spurs in 2008 against New Orleans. But an exasperated Popovich was in no mood to reminisce about that after losing Game 2 on Wednesday night.
“No, I won’t think about that at all,” Popovich said. “These guys are grown men. They don’t need me to say, ‘Now remember the Hornets fellas. We’ve got to really pull it together for Game 3.’ Maybe I’ll talk about the Gipper but I’m not going to talk about the Hornets.”
A topic he’d much rather discuss is Hill, who has struggled after a breakout first-round series against the Mavericks. Hill has scored just 25 combined points in Games 1 and 2 against the Suns, and was in foul trouble Wednesday.
Hill averaged nearly 20 points in the final four games against Dallas, including becoming the first player other than Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker to lead the Spurs in scoring in 41 playoff games.
Popovich has so far stuck with Hill in the starting lineup against the Suns, while Parker has averaged 23 points off the bench.
In his second season, Hill has gone from an atrocious shooter taken 26th in the 2008 draft to supplanting Parker in the starting lineup. He’s become a trustworthy 3-point shooter, a dependable defender and, as early as the start of this season, Popovich dubbed him his favorite player.
During Hill’s emergence early in the playoffs, Popovich went even further.
“Usually guys are role players or they’re star players,” Popovich said. “He’s going to progress from role player to star player.”
It’s a comment that carries import. The Spurs have long turned second bananas into essential complementary players, from Avery Johnson to Robert Horry to Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley.
But Popovich doesn’t see Hill as just another side piece. Against the Mavericks, Popovich grew frustrated with Hill for doing what most guards in his position would — prioritize getting his three All-Star teammates on the court involved.
Popovich told Hill to stop deferring to the Big Three. How often has he told another player that?
“Sometimes to be a great leader you got to be a great follower, and he’s been a great follower in his short time with us,” said Popovich, adding that Hill will become one of “those rare guys” to elevate to a main role.
For now, Hill is just trying to get the Spurs a win in whatever role he can.
“They play well at home like we play well at home,” Hill said after Game 2. “We just have to take care of our home and try to come back in here and steal a win.”
The Spurs went 3-0 at home against Dallas in the first round.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Suns guard Jason Richardson said. “But if we stick to the things we normally do and play defense the way we have been playing we have a chance.”