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Notebook: Vogel Keeps Calm, So Do Players

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 6, 2013, 7:45 PM

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Small moments can reveal major factors.

One of the primary traits Pacers coach Frank Vogel exhibits, for example, is a consistently cheerful and patient demeanor. George Hill recently poked fun at it, saying the players sometimes have to stifle laughter when Vogel yells at them “because he’s such a nice guy.” Vogel’s personality, however, appears to be a major asset toward keeping him and his players calm throughout the stressful moments of a season.

Nothing is more stressful for an NBA coach than the playoffs, and the crush of media that accompanies the postseason – particularly when you’re playing in New York – can wear out the most patient of men. Vogel, however, handles it all with a smile. Knicks coach Mike Woodson – certainly a pleasant man away from basketball – seemed stone-cold serious when he met with the media before Sunday’s game. Vogel followed Woodson to the interview room and offered a starkly contrasting personality. He sat down at the table, smiled and said, “How is everybody?”

Related: Pacers Look to Take Stranglehold on Series »

Following Monday’s practice, Vogel stood against a wall at the end of the gymnasium while a mob of reporters approached. They crowded him, thrusting microphones in his face, all trying to get within earshot, the ones in back shoving those in front ever-closer.

Vogel merely smiled. “Everybody get a little bit closer,” he said. He proceeded to stand there for 10 minutes, taking on all questions without a hint of irritation, before the session was called to a halt.

Stephenson looks, learns

The playoff series between the Pacers and Knicks has been a coming-out party for Brooklyn native Lance Stephenson. His all-around performance in the Pacers’ Game 1 victory on Sunday – 11 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists – made him a popular subject for the New York media on Monday.

Two years ago, after Stephenson had completed a rookie season in which he played in just 12 games for a total of 115 minutes, few people would have predicted he would come this far. Back then he was still primarily a street ball player, lacking discipline on and off the court. He had been already been confronted with a well-publicized charge for assaulting his girlfriend that was eventually dropped, and had not endeared himself to many of his teammates.

“It’s night and day,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Monday. “Not just his off-the-court problems, but his professionalism here. Being on time, the demeanor you have to have in practice in terms of (not) goofing around, how to carry yourself in the locker room, being respectful to your teammates, all those things that fall into the category of professionalism.”

On the court, Stephenson has begun doing the dirty work not learned on the playgrounds, such as rebounding. He has been the Pacers’ leading rebounder from his shooting guard position over their last five playoff games.

“He is a great rebounder in terms of smelling out and winning those loose-ball battles,” Vogel said. “To get him to stop leaking out (for a fastbreak) as he’s been doing most of the year is huge. He’s also been majorly guilty of backdoor gambles, stabbing in the backcourt trying to get a steal, leading to layup (for the other team) at the other end. He’s really grown in not trying to do that. And just understanding who he is and not trying to do too much.”

Stephenson said he’s matured from observing teammates.

“Watching other players, watching players that were in front of me and learning all the little things that keep them on the floor and why everybody likes them,” he said. “I’m just trying to take what they did and put it (to use) in my own way.”

Young and restless

Sam Young had played only 10 mop-up minutes in the Pacers’ first-round series with Atlanta, so it came as a bit of a shock when he got first-half action against New York – to him and the fans. It didn’t go well for him. Entering the game with 2:22 left, he was soon called for fouling Raymond Felton away from the play as Carmelo Anthony hit a jumper. On the Pacers’ next possession, he sailed a post feed out of bounds. Less than a minute later, he bobbled Paul George’s simple kick-out pass in the corner. He then grabbed a rebound of a missed Knicks shot and took the ball upcourt himself, and was called for a palming violation with 2.4 seconds left.

With Twitter exploding with “bench Young” pleas from Pacers fans, Vogel kept Young in the game to start the second period. He got through 3 ½ minutes of play without incident before Vogel substituted for him and two teammates, avoiding the appearance of benching him.

“I believe he’s going to have an impact in this series,” Vogel said Monday. “He obviously had a rough start. He hadn’t played (most of) the last series. So, you have to be patient with those situations. You don’t want to hurt your team, but I believe in him as a basketball player. He’s going to have a big impact on this series.”

Asked if Young would still be in the playing rotation on Tuesday, Vogel replied quickly: “Sure.”

Young has positive postseason history behind him. He started 11 of Memphis’ 13 playoff games two years ago, when the Grizzlies upset top-seeded San Antonio in the first round. He averaged 7.5 points in those games, and had 17 points in one game against the Spurs and 18 in another.

Vogel loves game within the game

Vogel came up through the coaching ranks as a video coordinator rather than a major college or professional player. Therefore, it’s not surprising that he loves studying video and looking for strategic advantages. That comes into play more than ever in the playoffs, when teams play one another at least four times over the course of a series.

“You have to understand that each game there’s going to be adjustments that you make and you have to anticipate the adjustments that your opponent makes,” Vogel said. “It’s what I like about playoff basketball. It’s a bigger chess match than the regular season.

“You think about it, obsess about it aro und the clock. You get done with practice and lock yourself in the room and watch the game and watch it a different way and think of different things. You study it inside and out. I really enjoy that more than any other time of year.”

Vogel is likely to have more adjustments to consider when the series resumes in Indianapolis on Saturday. Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire is likely to return then after sitting out the past two months following knee surgery.

Stoudemire, a six-time All-Star, did not begin playing this season until Jan. 1, and then had to be shut down on March 9. There is doubt whether his return will benefit the Knicks, but they could use his size (6-10) against the taller and more physical Pacers.

Vogel won’t mind preparing for that possibility.

“That’s a tough lineup to go up against, too,” he said. “When Amare comes back, they’re equally effective. It’s a different type of attack, a different type of defensive scheme. It’s an equal challenge.”

Advantage Pacers?

Number are crunched into oblivion in sports these days, particularly in the playoffs. Therefore, two trends have emerged that favor the Pacers in their series with New York.

1. In the six playoff series between these two teams, the winner of the first game has won the series each time.

2. The Game 1 winner of all the NBA’s conference semi-final playoff series dating back to the 1983-84 season, has won 80.2 percent of the time.

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