That didn’t make Hill a fan. He actually didn’t pay much attention to Bryant. Hill immersed himself with his own basketball games, and when not playing, typically had fun with video games rather than check out the Lakers.
So Hill, in his second season with the Indiana Pacers, wasn’t star struck Monday night when entrusted with the unenviable task of guarding the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Say this for Hill, he’s respectful of a five-time NBA champion and 16-time All-Star. He knew to keep his mouth shut.
“I would never talk to Kobe,” Hill said. “You don’t want to give him anything to get going. That can be the one difference. You get a guy like him, you say something, he takes it the wrong way and it’s a whole different Kobe. It’s already bad enough as it is, the type of player he is and what he can do, you don’t want to give a guy like that any more ammunition.”
The only talking on court, according to Pacers players and courtside photographers, was Bryant going off on referees with expletives during a frustrating night. He was assessed a technical foul in the third quarter.
Bryant had to work for his game-high 21 points on 8-of-26 shooting, including just 2-of-8 from 3-point range. The rest of his team didn’t do much as Hill and the Pacers enjoyed a relatively easy 110-91 victory. Down 31 after three quarters, the 36-year-old Bryant didn’t play the final quarter.
“It’s definitely surreal,” Hill said of facing Bryant. “You’re talking about one of the greatest players of all-time being on the floor. But I can’t go into a mind-set of looking like, ‘Oh, my God, he’s Kobe’ when I have to guard this guy. He can go out there any given moment and put up 81 on you.”
A night earlier in Minneapolis, Bryant passed Michael Jordan (32,292 points) for third on the league's all-time scoring list.
The Pacers (8-17) desperately needed this win to snap an eight-game losing streak, their longest winless stretch since 2009. They eclipsed 100 points for just the fifth time and were one shy of a season high. The 48.2 shooting percentage (40-of-83) was just shy of a season best.
The Lakers (8-17) saw a three-game winning streak end with a lethargic effort after scoring an NBA-low 27 points in the first half. Los Angeles made just 7-of-43 shots (16.3 percent) in the opening two quarters.
“I think we had tired legs, a lot of our shots were short,” said Bryant, whose Lakers trailed by as much as 39 in the second quarter.
Lakers coach Byron Scott, a former Pacers guard, said his team was “really embarrassed the way we played in the first half.”
Bryant complimented Hill’s effort.
“I thought he competed hard, in that he moved his feet and I thought he played well,” Bryant said.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel said the key for Hill was to be himself, which means playing hard and contesting everything.
“There are certain things you have to do to try to make it tough on Kobe and 'Solo' did a lot of those things,” Vogel said. “We tried to make everything contested, stay down on him.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.