Ellis' Attitude at the Core of Pacers’ Win Streak

The Pacers have averaged 118.6 points during the winning streak that reached five games with Saturday's 123-109 victory over New York, a sudden about-face from the four-game losing streak that preceded it.

Let's extrapolate how it's happened:

1. The ball has been moving better.

2. The ball has been moving better because Jeff Teague has been a master craftsman at point guard. He had 17 assists against Chicago in the first victory of the revival and had 15 against Brooklyn on Thursday. He settled for eight assists against the Knicks, but shared scoring honors with Paul George with 19 points on just seven field goal attempts.

3. Teague has been playing well largely because Glenn Robinson III has been moved to the starting lineup in place of Monta Ellis. Robinson has started the previous 13 games, but didn't hit stride until the winning streak began, coincidentally or not. He's hit 15-of-27 field goal attempts in that stretch but doesn't care about scoring. He's brought improved defense and rebounding to the starting lineup and allowed Teague to have virtually sole control of the offense.

4. And, finally, moving Robinson into the starting lineup has worked because Ellis has accepted a backup role. He hadn't come off the bench since the 2007-08 season with Golden State, but the 12-year NBA veteran, while not exactly celebrating the change, is accepting it and doing all he can to help Robinson.

So, there you have it. Dig far enough, and you could identify Ellis as the root cause of the Pacers' turnaround. He's a quietly intimidating force, one some of his previous coaches seemed afraid to cross. He's also the strongest personality in the Pacers' locker room. If he were inclined, he could easily wreak havoc by objecting to the change, and no doubt convince Pacers coach Nate McMillan the safest option is to leave him in the starting lineup.

When McMillan brought up the idea to him, though, he had a simple response, which he reiterated following Saturday's game when asked how he feels about playing off the bench.

"I'll do whatever it takes to help the team win," he said.

That doesn't mean Ellis prefers it this way. He's accustomed to starting, has pride in starting and doesn't feel all that comfortable with the Pacers' second unit. Having two bigs in that group – Kevin Seraphin and Al Jefferson – limits his driving opportunities, and Aaron Brooks commands some of the ball handling as well.

"But it's been working, so it's cool," he said.

Ellis played Saturday's game with a face mask. He broke his nose when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope head-butted him in the Pacers' win at Detroit last Tuesday. Ellis played Thursday's win over Brooklyn unmasked, but went to a doctor on Friday, missing practice, and was fitted for protection. He finished with nine points in 20 1/2 minutes off the bench.

One shouldn't take that stat lightly. Twenty minutes for him is like a day off. This is a guy who thrives on playing time, blessed with lung capacity or whatever it takes to run all night. Martinsville native Jerry Sichting, the Knicks assistant coach who was an assistant for Golden State one season when Ellis played there, describes him as a guy who would play all day during the summers, and could go 48 with no problem in NBA games.

Ellis led the NBA in minutes played in 2009-10 and the following season, averaging 41.4 and 40.3, respectively. He's 31 now, but still doesn't tire easily. For him, the hardest part of playing off the bench is not playing more.

"But I understand the situation," he said. "Whatever it takes for the win."

Some people might be surprised to hear that kind of talk out of him. It's difficult to say what his reputation was around the league before he came to the Pacers, but it didn't seem to be one of a mental attitude award winner. Ask around, and people say they thought of him as a guy who played hard, played a lot and could score and get steals. Perhaps because he's so quiet and doesn't care for attention from anyone, media included, people have assumed he wasn't a good influence. The fact Golden State, Milwaukee, and Dallas all let him go probably enhanced that reputation.

"Monta had a negative stigma around the league," Paul George said. "I didn't quite understand it. He came here and he's been a mentor for me. He's been a great influence for me, whether he's been hurt or playing. He'll pull me aside and tell me what he sees, what works for him, what he thinks I should do, how defenses are guarding me. He's been a lot of help. He's definitely helped Glenn, he's helped Jeff in situations, he's always on our bigs...I've never understood his stigma.

"Monta has always been heart and soul...giving anything and everything he has for this team. He plays hurt, he'll play a different position, he'll play a different role, he'll play off the bench...nothing really seems to bother him. He's all for this team. You don't meet many in this league who would sacrifice anything for a team."

Ellis is the Pacers' best coach on the floor, the one player who will take a teammate aside and offer advice. McMillan said he's the only who will tell George not to get wrapped up in the officiating. He offers practical advice, too. He worked with Myles Turner on pick-and-rolls in the practice gym over the summer. He grabbed Kevin Seraphin during a timeout in Thursday's win over Brooklyn and, out on the court, gave a quick tutorial on blitzing to the basket. He's in Robinson's ear constantly, giving him tips such as to play off Dwyane Wade when Wade posted up, so Wade couldn't feel him and spin to the basket.

"The young guys gotta learn," he said. "Some guys get down when guys make tough shots, but you just gotta let 'em know, guys are going to make shots. There aren't too many people stopping people on every play, but there's tendencies they have and there's a way to play them.

"I've guarded all the guys they have to guard, and played against the guys guarding them as well. I just try to use my experience to get an imprint on what they're facing."

Ellis sits next to the coaches on the bench, even when injured and in street clothes. He asks questions of the coaches, and relays that information to his teammates. He's the first player to stick his head in a huddle and offer advice, encouragement or admonishment, during timeouts. Assistant coach Dan Burke says the Pacers are beginning to become a player-coached team, which always is the ideal scenario, and that Ellis has been the instigator of that.

So, Ellis probably would like to coach someday, right?

"Nope," he said, laughing. "Nah. Nah."

No interest, huh?

"No sir."

At this stage of his career, he just wants one thing. He's never won big in the NBA, having just five playoff appearances and reaching the second round only once. He knows time is running out, and he doesn't plan to interfere with this opportunity.

"We're doing great," he said. "We're playing together, playing for one another. We just have to keep it up. Keep climbing, keep chipping away and win the games we need to win and find a way to win the games that are tough."

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