Pacers on Bogdanovic's Return, Building Chemistry

Nov. 26, 2019 - Pacers coach Nate McMillan discusses facing the Utah Jazz and former Pacer Bojan Bogdanovic, then McMillan and Justin Holiday talk about Indiana's growing camaraderie.

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Pacers on Bogdanovic's Return, Building Chemistry

Nov. 26, 2019 - Pacers coach Nate McMillan discusses facing the Utah Jazz and former Pacer Bojan Bogdanovic, then McMillan and Justin Holiday talk about Indiana's growing camaraderie.
Nov 26, 2019  |  02:04

McConnell Provides Another Picture-Perfect Moment

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

It was another classic photo op, one that not only makes for a great visual but tells a story about a team's inner harmony.

Two seasons ago it was Cory Joseph in the final minutes of a game against Atlanta. This time it was T.J. McConnell at the end of the third quarter of Monday's game with Memphis. Both will remain memorable for years to come, for the dramatic images they inspired and the substance behind them.

"Just the reaction from the bench was priceless, and shows the kind of guys we have here," McConnell said following the Pacers' victory over the Grizzlies.

Joseph reacted much the same way following his uplifting moment late in the Pacers' victory over Atlanta on Feb. 23, 2018 at The Fieldhouse. He had stolen a crosscourt pass, scored on a layup and drawn a foul that knocked him to the floor. He sat upright against the stanchion padding to catch his breath, then nearly had his breath taken away by what he saw next. Lance Stephenson, Domantas Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, and Thaddeus Young were sprinting toward him from the other end of the court while the rest of his teammates rushed at him from the bench.

He was practically flung into the air as they swarmed him, and Jessica Hoffman's photo captured the moment so perfectly it was turned into a poster entitled "Together."

"That just shows you right there what kind of men we are in the locker room, and how special the locker room is," Victor Oladipo said of the moment after the game.

Oladipo could have said the same thing following the group hug of McConnell following Monday's game.

With the clock running the third quarter to a close, Aaron Holiday drove toward the basket and threw back a pass to McConnell outside the 3-point arc. McConnell had to pause to reach out with his right hand to corral the ball and regain his footing. With no time to do anything else, he drove past De'Anthony Melton with three left-handed dribbles and lofted an arcing shot over two other oncoming Grizzlies, Brandon Clarke and Kyle Anderson. It fell through the net a split-second after the buzzer sounded.

McConnell's momentum took him beyond the baseline, where he fell the Pacers bench. He sat up with legs extended and was quickly engulfed by his teammates, both those in the game and on the sideline. He was pulled up, although not quite as violently as Joseph had been.

Cory Joseph and T.J. McConnell celebrations

Photo Credit: Jessica Hoffman (left), Matt Kryger (right)

McConnell was met with a flurry of back slaps, high fives, and chest bumps, and the celebration continued as he made his way to the bench for the between-period break. Oladipo laughed and looked up at the center scoreboard to watch the replay, while Goga Bitadze wrapped his left arm around McConnell's neck and hugged him.

Pacers' coach Nate McMillan, careful not to assume too much just 16 games into the season, recalled the moment calmly following Tuesday's practice at St. Vincent Center.

"We're getting there," he said when asked if the reaction to McConnell's play revealed anything about his team. "We're starting to learn each other, appreciate each other. The way McConnell plays the game, fearless, always has his head into things...I thought it just showed...the respect he has gotten from this team."

Justin Holiday, one of six first-year Pacers who were dressed for Monday's game, read more into it.

"That's just how our team is," he said. "We genuinely care about each other and are excited about someone else doing well. And that's the key to having a good team. Not every team is like that. Not that guys aren't good people, but sometimes you just don't understand that, or you don't completely buy into thinking about someone else.

"When you can think about someone else and put the team first, the sky's the limit as a team. It's a good thing we have that attribute now and show that naturally, because if we don't have to worry about dealing with that later we just have to make sure our Xs and Os are together and we'll be all right."

The team of two seasons ago exceeded expectations by winning 48 games and took eventual playoff runner-up Cleveland to seven games in the first round. This season's group has a long way to go to reach maturity because of the offseason roster changes and early-season injuries. Oladipo has yet to play and four of the intended starters have missed at least two games during his absence.

But the camaraderie appears established. It's visible not only in the group reaction to McConnell's shot, but in dozens of other small ways on the practice court and in the locker room.

It's a good feeling when you know your teammates have your back," McConnell said.

Bojan Coming Back

The Pacers play Utah at The Fieldhouse on Wednesday, which will reunite them — at least that half of the team that was here last season — with Bojan Bogdanovic.

Bogdanovic, who played the previous two seasons with the Pacers, signed a free agent contract the Jazz over the summer, while the Pacers accepted Phoenix' offer of T.J. Warren in exchange for cash.

Bogdanovic boosted his career significantly with the Pacers, establishing himself as more than 3-point shooter. He averaged a career-high 18 points last season when he became the No. 1 scoring option after Oladipo was lost to injury. He is averaging 20.9 points so far with the Jazz while hitting a career-high 46 percent from the 3-point line.

Warren is averaging 17.1 points and shooting slightly better (.489) than Bogdanovic on overall field goal attempts.

"He's a warrior," McMillan said of Bogdanovic. "I just love the guy. He comes to play every single day. He doesn't miss anything that he doesn't have to. He (always) came ready to play."

McMillan said he hasn't spoken with Bogdanovic since the final game of last season. After a pause, he added, "I still like him, though."

A Tougher Test

Utah should give the Pacers one of their more difficult challenges of the season to date.

They have defeated just one team that currently owns a winning record, Brooklyn. The Nets are 9-8. The Pacers lost at Houston by nine points, the game in which starting point guard Malcolm Brogdon was lost nine minutes into the game because of a strained lower back, and lost by 19 the following night to Milwaukee at The Fieldhouse.

McMillan doesn't view Wednesday's game as a special test, though.

"We're looking forward to whoever comes in," he said. "Next opponent."

The Jazz are 11-6 following Monday's four-point loss at Milwaukee. They have defeated Milwaukee, Philadelphia and the Clippers at home, but are 3-5 on the road. The Pacers, 10-6, have won three straight games and 10 of the previous 13 following their 0-3 start.


Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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