It took longer than he and his teammates wanted, but the wait proved to be worth it for George Hill.
The 31-year-old veteran point guard of the Cleveland Cavaliers had missed the last three games of the first-round series against the Indiana Pacers because of back spasms. While activated, he sat and watched the first half of Game 7 from the bench Sunday.
It wasn't until the Cavs trailed, 59-58, with 7:12 to play in the third quarter at Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue pulled the trigger and inserted Hill into the lineup after calling a timeout.
Hill never came off the floor.
Cleveland 105, Indiana 101. On to Toronto.
Making his first appearance since the third quarter of Game 3, Hill responded with 11 points, six rebounds (5 on the offensive end), three assists and a block in 19 minutes. While he made only one basket, a tipin, he his 9-of-11 performance from the free-throw line at crunch time was huge.
LeBron James scored 12 of his game-high 45 points in the third quarter. Hill scored only two points in the quarter, but played a huge part in the damage James was able to inflict on Indiana. All 12 of his points in the quarter came after Hill was inserted into the fray.
"He was being aggressive and we needed every bit of it," James said of Hill's effort. "I said it postgame on the court, I said it's not very often when you're able to split the game ball in half but G-Hill and Double-T (Tristan Thompson) did that tonight."
Having watched yet another double-digit advantage evaporate in the third quarter, Lue had Hill and James run a 1-3 pick-and-roll, which Cleveland had used so effectively with Kyrie Irving and James en route to making appearances in the last three NBA Finals.
The Pacers had no answer for that set, which had James setting the screen for Hill, forcing the Pacers to switch Darren Collison onto him with either Bojan Bogdanovic or Thaddeus Young having to stop Hill off the bounce.
"G-Hill not playing in the first half coming in the third quarter and giving us that spark at the point guard position with him and LeBron running the 13 action, it was huge for us," Thompson, who also came up huge with 15 points and 10 rebounds in making his first start in the series, said. "He was able to make shots, get to the lane and put pressure on Bogdanovic to either pick or choose."
Earlier, James had to leave the game for the first time with a minute to play in the third quarter with the Cavs up by a point at 75-74. After James made a quick trip into the locker room, where he said he said no to receiving an IV, he returned to the bench.
However, with Hill running the show, including the pick-and-roll with Love, the Cavaliers actually increased their advantage while James was out of the game, a rarity at any time this season.
“That was an opportunity that we needed to take advantage of," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. "And we didn’t.”
When James checked back into the contest with 8:25 to play, Cleveland held an 86-79 advantage, in large part thanks to Hill steadying the ship.
"Just trying to give a little cushion," Hill said of that point in the game while James was not in the lineup. "We know he played the whole first half and the whole third quarter, almost.
"To give him a little space where he can take a breath and relax his body a little bit, that's what we had to do."
Having received several injections in an effort to play, Hill said he made it a point to be ready when and if his number was called. Sunday marked the first time he's come off the bench since coming to Cleveland from Sacramento on Feb. 8.
"Me and a couple guys just talking about it, I said I don't care if it's three minutes or 30 seconds, last play of the game, whatever," he said. "When I got out there, I was just gonna play hard and give it all I got
"I wasn't worried about when, just wanted to do the best I can."