Leonard feels being a starter has become too big a thing for the Pacers. "This is a seven-or eight-man game," he says. He believes the only player in the closing months of the season who regularly came off the bench to help was rookie Hillman. Once overshadowed by McGinnis, the muscleman who led the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding as a sophomore and then quit Indiana University last spring to join the Pacers, Hillman now calls himself "the sleeper of the year."
At 6'9", he well may be the jumper of the year. In high school Hillman practiced by slamming the soles of his sneakers—with his feet in them—off the bottom of the backboard. In college he high-jumped seven feet, and in the pros he is one of the few players who can explode from a flat-footed stance and still out-reach opponents crashing on the run from the outside.
As the playoffs rolled along to the sixth game, it was Hillman's rebounding and defense, and even his shooting, which had not been too impressive before, that played a big hand in Indiana's survival. The Pacers, despite their year-long aimlessness, had typically pulled themselves together again to face the Stars.
In the seventh game Monday night they pulled hardest of all, breaking Utah's home streak and seizing the division title. The next stop for the Pacers is the finals—and any oddsmaker who puts a line on that contest had better add in the vagaries of a confounding spring.