Postgame: Pacers Locker Room – Jan. 20, 2021

Jan. 20, 2021 – Nate Bjorkgren, Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, and Domantas Sabonis speak with the media following Indiana’s 112-124 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

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Postgame: Pacers Locker Room – Jan. 20, 2021

Jan. 20, 2021 – Nate Bjorkgren, Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, and Domantas Sabonis speak with the media following Indiana’s 112-124 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Jan 20, 2021  |  03:20

Lamb Gets the Bucket and the Foul

January 20, 2021: Jeremy Lamb takes the ball strong to the basket and finishes through contact.
Jan 20, 2021  |  00:12

Lamb and McConnell Connect for the Score

January 20, 2021: Jeremy Lamb pokes the ball away, T.J. McConnell hustles and saves it back to Lamb for the layup.
Jan 20, 2021  |  00:09

Fly Guy Cleared for Takeoff

Jeremy Lamb's Return Gives Lift to Pacers Backcourt
by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

With 55.8 seconds remaining in the first quarter on Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Jeremy Lamb checked into the game for the Pacers. It was his first time playing in an NBA game in 332 days, since he tore his left ACL in Toronto on Feb. 23, 2020.

"It's been a long process," Lamb said. "I had a lot going through my head. I was nervous, anxious, just wanted to help the team. Just a lot of different emotions, but I was really excited."

Despite the long layoff, Lamb showed little signs of rust in the first half of Wednesday's game against the Dallas Mavericks.

He drove and converted a layup plus a foul with 9:11 remaining for his first points, then knocked down the free throw to complete the three-point play. Two minutes later, he came up with a steal and converted a one-handed jumper from the left baseline in transition.

After checking out midway through the second quarter, the 28-year-old guard returned for the final three minutes of the first half, knocking down a pull-up jumper and a 3-pointer over that span.

Lamb finished the first half a perfect 4-for-4 from the field, scoring 10 points in as many minutes. He played nine more minutes in the second half, missing four shots, but still finished the night with an impressive stat line of 10 points, two rebounds, two steals, and just one turnover in 19:18.

"He was ready tonight," Pacers point guard Malcolm Brogdon said after the game. "I think he played better than I've ever seen a guy coming back (from a major injury). After being out a year and coming back from an ACL, he played really well tonight."

Lamb was flourishing in his eighth NBA season and his first in Indiana a year ago, averaging 12.5 points and 4.3 assists in 46 games before landing awkwardly on his leg after being fouled by Raptors guard Terence Davis on a fastbreak last February in Toronto.

As soon as he hit the floor, Lamb knew something was wrong, immediately grabbing his left knee. But after being tended to by the training staff, he insisted on staying on the court to shoot the ensuing free throws, making both of them before being subbed out of the game.

A subsequent MRI revealed he tore the ACL in his left knee, tore his lateral meniscus, and suffered a lateral femoral condylar fracture. He underwent surgery days later, the beginning of a lengthy rehab.

It was the first major injury for Lamb. He has played in 482 career NBA games, the most of any player on the Pacers roster.

He stayed in Indianapolis for much of the rehab process, working closely with the Pacers training staff. He did accompany the team to Orlando for the beginning of the NBA season restart in August to be around his teammates before returning to Indiana to continue his rehab.

"Having a big injury and having the game taken away from me was tough," Lamb said.

"I think the toughest part was just trying to stay mentally strong, knowing that I would be able to get back, I would be able to play the game I love again. It's not the end of the road. Getting over that mental hurdle was probably one of the toughest things for me."

Jeremy Lamb

Photo Credit: Matt Kryger

Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren happened to be there when Lamb was injured last February, as he was an assistant coach for the Raptors at the time. Since he assumed his new job in Indiana in the fall, Bjorkgren has overseen the final months of Lamb's rehab.

"I like his personality a lot," Bjorkgren said. "He and I have been talking about this day here for a while, for me to be able to get a chance to coach him. I've really been looking forward to that."

Lamb has been a partial participant in basketball activities since the Pacers opened training camp in December, taking part in shooting drills and playing one-on-one or two-on-two. He was cleared to play five-on-five in recent weeks and circled Wednesday's game as a possible return date in consultation with the training staff. Lamb accompanied the Pacers on last week's West Coast road trip before making his debut on Wednesday against Dallas in the start of a four-game homestand.

When he took the floor against the Mavericks, Lamb said he had some concerns about taking contact, but they quickly disappeared after he converted that first three-point play.

"I think I was more surprised about my wind," he said. "I felt like I wasn't as tired as I thought I was going to be...My first couple shots were close to the basket. That definitely helped to give me some confidence."

Lamb's improved conditioning could perhaps be partially attributed to changes in diet he made during his rehab. He told reporters at the start of training camp that he used the time off to really focus on his body, cutting back on junk food and eating healthier meals.

One of the more vocal voices in the Pacers locker room, Lamb has made his presence felt despite his absence on the court. His teammates pointed out how loudly the man affectionately known as "Fly Guy" cheered from the sidelines while he was injured and rookie guard Cassius Stanley cited Lamb as one of the veterans who took him under his wing during training camp.

"I love playing basketball," Lamb said. "I love watching basketball all the time. I tried to be positive about it and think of it as I get to be courtside every night and learn more and more about the game."

Seeing Lamb on the court again on Wednesday gave his teammates an emotional boost.

"We were so happy for him," Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis said. "He's been working so hard every day. He comes in, does his work quietly…He's vocal out there supporting us on the bench. I'm happy for him. He came back, played really good, was aggressive, wasn't scared."

"He's a warrior and he's a worker," Brogdon added. "Jeremy has been a complete professional about his rehab and his approach trying to get back on the court, trying to get healthy, and it shows."

Lamb's return comes at an important time for the Blue & Gold. Indiana is lacking depth on the wing, with T.J. Warren (foot surgery) and Caris LeVert (medical condition) both out indefinitely. Lamb is a taller guard who can guard multiple positions and a capable scorer and ballhandler on the offensive end.

"He's a starter in this league," Brogdon said. "He's a complete pro all the way around (and) respected in this league. People know what he can do on the court. He's going to be huge. Especially with our wings down right now, Jeremy's going to play big minutes for us once he gets his feet under him."

Bjorkgren said Lamb is not under a minutes restriction. He limited him to 19 minutes on Wednesday in his debut, but he expects to ramp up his playing time over the next few games.

For now, Bjorkgren likes Lamb's fit as a scorer coming off the bench, though he could return to the starting lineup (he started 42 of 46 games last season) at some point, particularly while Warren and LeVert remain out.

While some players returning from a major injury elect to sit out one night of back-to-back sets, Lamb said on Wednesday that if it is up to him that won't be the case.

"If I feel good I'm going to play...I'm (not) going to put no restrictions on it," he said. "If it's sore, we're going to be smart about it and the training staff is great here so they're going to advise me the right way. But as far as I know, I'm going to try to play every game."

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