Quiet Drama on Display
by Mark Montieth | email@example.com
December 20, 2012
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The great thing about basketball seasons if you're a neutral observer is that regardless of how a team is performing there's always an endless supply of story lines. Someone's career is ascending, someone else's career is descending. Someone looks like they've arrived and someone else looks hopelessly lost, but then it all changes in one 48-minute mini-drama.
Such was the case in the Pacers' 104-84 win over Utah on Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, when fleeting impressions merged to write a subplot.
Jamaal Tinsley left the biggest impression on me, and he didn't even play. I can't remember the last time I had talked with Tinsley, but it was sometime in the 2007-08 season. That was his last season playing for the Pacers and my last season helping to cover them for the Indianapolis Star. The difference between him and me was that I left my job voluntarily and he was told to stay home the following season. The other difference, sadly, was that he got paid not to work and I didn't.
Remember the start of Tinsley's rookie season, when he dominated box scores early in the season and looked like he was going to be an All-Star point guard? Remember when he passed out a club-record 23 assists in a Thanksgiving Day game against Washington? Remember how he was a better point guard that season than San Antonio's Tony Parker, who was drafted one spot behind him? Remember when he was the starting point guard on the 2003-04 team that won a franchise-record 61 games? Remember the no-look passes, the sleight-of-hand dribbling?
Many fans don't. They more easily recall the complicated off-court issues and clashes with coaches that ultimately led to him being asked to sit out the 2008-09 season. He got paid not to play, which sounds like a dream job, but really isn't for a professional athlete.
Tinsley seems a new man now. He went out of his way to greet the familiar members of the Pacers' media corp before the game, and strike up conversations. He sat by the coaches on the Utah bench and was the most vocal player during the game. Afterward, he said he likes living in Salt Lake City because the pace is slower, and offered me his phone number for future conversations. I'm not sure I've ever seen a more dramatic transformation from an athlete I've covered. He was never angry or nasty while with the Pacers, but was often sullen and always difficult to know.
Hard to believe, but Tinsley's 34 years old now. The NBA has its own, cruel clock, and it ages its players quickly. Tinsley now qualifies as a survivor, having emerged from the Development League to regain a niche in the NBA. And he can still play, despite his DNP-CD on Wednesday. He always had a knack for bizarre stat lines, and he had a doozy one in a game against Phoenix in November when he finished with 14 assists (10 in the first half) and no points. Only three other players in league history have gone scoreless and had 14 or more assists. It's typical of Tinsley to have atypical performances.
Seeing him Wednesday was the highlight of my season so far.
Another point guard left an impression, in this case by playing. D.J. Augustin had sat out the last four games after losing his backup spot to Ben Hansbrough, but got the call after Hansbrough suffered a grade one sprain of his left shoulder after fighting through a pick. ("They told me to say I'm day-to-day," he said.) Augustin played 12 minutes and looked like the player the Pacers thought they were getting when they signed him over the summer. He hit 3-of-4 shots, including a three-pointer, and scored seven points.
Augustin admitted it has been difficult not playing, but stopped short of saying it motivated him. "Basketball is basketball," he said. "I just went in there and played."
Augustin had hit 27 percent of his field goal attempts going into the game, and you have to round up to get there. Watching him hit jumpers against the Jazz was nearly as much a revelation as watching Tinsley engage people in conversation.
"I can shoot," Augustin said. "I know I can shoot. Sometimes in the game you have to get a rhythm and sometimes I don't have that rhythm. Tonight I felt like I did and made my shots."
I had asked Pacers coach Frank Vogel before the game if he planned to work Augustin back into the playing rotation anytime soon. He was noncommittal, but the combination of Augustin's shooting and Hansbrough's injury could mean Augustin will get the call in Friday's game at Cleveland. I thought Hansbrough might have the backup spot for the rest of the season after his splashy debut last week against Cleveland, but suddenly it doesn't look that way.
Same goes for Gerald Green, who like Augustin had been a disappointment for most of the season. Expected to bring scoring punch off the bench, he was averaging seven points on 36 percent shooting before Wednesday, then went out and scored a season-high 21. He hit 4-of-6 three pointers and had the best dunk of the season, a flying, elbow-cocking jam that drew a foul and lifted teammates and fans from their seats.
Now that big games from Paul George are routine enough to be no longer newsworthy, Indianapolis' version of a media horde was waiting for Green when he emerged from his shower.
"I'm not used to this Paul George treatment," he said, loud enough for George to hear.
Green has had big games before. I remember watching him score more than 20 for Boston against the Pacers as a rookie right out of high school in 2005-06. His thoughts were with the team more than himself.
The loss in Milwaukee on Tuesday, which ended a three-game winning streak, had served as a wake-up call, he said. That embarrassing 74-72 home court loss to Toronto on Nov. 13 had served as a bigger one. The Pacers lost at Milwaukee the following night as well, but since then, with the aid of a revamped offense, have gone 11-6.
"The game against Toronto, that really did something to us," he said. "We kind of took them for granted. We felt they would be tired and be winded (from playing the previous night), but they were the total opposite. We just took that as a lesson."
Wednesday's lesson was that you never know about a player in the NBA. Sometimes, they emerge from the dead.
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