As George Hill stepped onto the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court with 3:12 remaining in the first quarter Tuesday night, appreciative Indiana Pacers fans stood and gave the point guard a warm welcome in his season debut.
By game’s end, they were cheering him again.
Hill scored 11 of his team-high 15 points in the second half as the Pacers pulled away from New Orleans for a 96-84 victory.
A left knee contusion later described as a torn quad kept him in street clothes from the end of preseason through 28 regular-season games. The Pacers sputtered through losing streaks of eight and six games. Now that he’s back, Hill will eventually regain his starting role after building some conditioning.
What he gave his team in 21 minutes, 15 seconds off the bench this night was more than enough.
“Tired, but it’s feeling better,” Hill said of his recovery. “You just have to take one day at a time, ice it, stay off it and get ready for the next one.”
The seventh-year pro from Indianapolis is expected to return to his collegiate style of play, when he was an aggressive scorer just across town at IUPUI. But the lingering injury delayed that transition. When he finally could play, Hill said he wasn’t thinking about his point total.
“I didn’t try to put pressure on that,” he said, after hitting 5-of-8 shots including 2-of-3 3-pointers. “I was just making a play when you can make a play. I wasn’t worried about how many points I was scoring, or how many rebounds or assists. I just tried to focus on playing each play hard and try to win the game.”
Hill also had four rebounds, three assists and one steal.
The Pacers (10-19) prevailed for the second consecutive game in which they shot 50 percent, an accomplishment that first occurred in Sunday night’s 100-96 road victory over Minnesota. It’s just the third time they’ve won back-to-back games this season.
Center Roy Hibbert sank half of his 10 shots in a 14-point game. Forward David West hit 6-of-8 shots for 13 points. Solomon Hill knocked down 6-of-11 shots for 13 points. Point guard C.J. Watson made half of his 10 shots for 10 points.
Six Pacers scored in double digits, counting C.J. Miles’ 11 points off the bench, as the home team made 39-of-78 shots.
“He looked great out there,” head coach Frank Vogel said of Hill. “He made a lot of heady offensive plays. He just played a great basketball game at both ends.”
West was thrilled to see Hill back in business.
“We need his IQ, we need his ability,” West said. “He’s the head of the snake for us. He’s gonna work on his wind, but it was good. We need him out there.”
Forward Anthony Davis scored a game-high 21 points for the Pelicans (14-14).
Hibbert was especially active on the defensive end with seven blocked shots. West contributed a team-high five assists to the Pacers' 24 as well as seven rebounds.
This is the closest the Pacers have come to being at full strength in terms of key players from a year ago. Two-time All-Star Paul George probably won’t play this season, but three of the starters from last season’s Eastern Conference finalist — Hill, West and Hibbert — were finally playing together.
“It’s not 100 percent,” Hill said of his left leg, “but I try to do the best I can (to) try to help this team get over the hump.”
After such a long hiatus, this was an encouraging first step.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.