True to his character, Stephen Jackson made no attempt to hide his emotions.
"I'm so happy to be back," he said, "I want to scream."
The feeling is decidedly mutual, for Jackson's return to the court gives the Pacers several dimensions they have lacked since the Nov. 19 incident in Detroit that resulted in the suspensions of Jackson (30 games), Jermaine O'Neal (15) and Ron Artest (the rest of this season and the playoffs).
"Having Steve Jackson back is going to give us a lift," said Coach Rick Carlisle after practice Monday afternoon. "It's not going to solve all of our problems or our quandaries relative to some of the issues we've had with consistency, but it will help. We know that."
Jackson will start at small forward when the Pacers face the Celtics in Boston Wednesday night. He started the first nine games of the regular season at shooting guard while Reggie Miller was injured and averaged 15.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. But he'll need to provide much more than scoring.
"I know I bring a lot of energy to the game," Jackson said. "If anybody has to play on both ends of the court, it's me because not having our defensive stopper in Ron, I have to guard and I have to score. So I'm willing to take on that challenge. I did it in San Antonio, I did it in Atlanta and I'm willing to do it here.
"I'm just going to go out and try to do everything on the court. I don't limit my game. I can pass, I can shoot, I can defend, I can do it all. So I'm going to try to do it all to help my team."
With both Artest and Jackson out, the Pacers were the most shorthanded at small forward. James Jones, a 2003 second-round pick who played sparingly as a rookie, was thrust into the starting lineup and after some initial encouraging moments began to struggle. Veteran Michael Curry was signed to add defensive presence to the position, but he is not an offensive threat. In the 30 games since Nov. 19, the Pacers' starting small forwards have been outscored 463-186.
Jackson is a threat on the perimeter, in the post and on the move.
"It'll be different because J.J. and Mike really haven't been asked to score," said Jeff Foster. "We're basically playing Jermaine and Jamaal (Tinsley) and then whenever Reggie (Miller) gets a shot, he gets a shot. It'll be nice to basically have four options out there now with me doing my normal role of cleaning up.
"I expect Jack to get at least 10 shots a game. I don't know how many we were getting from the small forward position before, but it was nowhere near that many."
As many physical dimensions as he brings, Jackson raises the team's overall level of intensity and emotion.
"He's one of our top competitors," Carlisle said. "Let's face it: our best competitors are the guys in our starting lineup – Jermaine, Reggie (Miller), (Jamaal) Tinsley, Jackson and (Jeff) Foster. Those guys really compete at a high level. Getting him back helps us on the floor and helps us with our depth chart but it also gives us an extra spark and that's important because he's not only a good player, he's a guy with size and athleticism, and he's a guy that has that competitive fire that every team needs."
Jackson said he learned from the events that led to his suspension, although he hasn't been humbled by the experience. The 30-game absence reportedly cost him a $1.8 million in lost salary.
"It hasn't changed me at all," he said. "I'm the same Steve. Obviously, I won't go in the stands again, but I'm the same person. I'm still for my team. I'm still going to go down fighting with my team but I think we've got to be a little smarter. The situation set us back a lot and set the organization back a lot so we've got to be smarter, try to think first before we do things. We can't afford to get into any more incidents.
"We've got to come out, play basketball, win games and not worry about the B.S."