Turner Turns 20, and Turns It On

When Reggie Miller celebrated his 20th birthday, on Aug. 25, 1985, he was heading into his junior year at UCLA, looking forward to improving on a promising sophomore season when he averaged 15.2 points.

When Paul George celebrated his 20th birthday, on May 2, 2010, he was preparing for the NBA Draft, having completed a sophomore season at Fresno State in which he averaged 16.8 points and earned second-team all-Western Athletic Conference honors.

Myles Turner turned 20 on Thursday, and celebrated by scoring 24 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in a 92-84 victory over New Orleans in what was probably his best NBA performance and was certainly his best birthday.

"He had a big-boy game," George said.

Turner's parents were at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the game and took him out to dinner afterward, but no grand celebration was in the works. He's got practice on Friday, a game in Brooklyn on Saturday and another one back at The Fieldhouse on Sunday, which is how the big boys in the NBA have to deal with this kind of milestone. The work comes first.

But that's OK. Turner had his cake and ate it, too, against the Pelicans. He displayed agile elements of his game not yet seen around these parts and played the lead role in a crucial Pacers victory that was more difficult than it should have been against a team missing its six leading scorers.

The highlight of his performance was an arm-cocked fastbreak dunk in the first quarter that brought fans and teammates alike to their feet.

"The team gets on me a little bit and says I have no bounce, so I tried to do something," Turner said. "It worked out for the best. It made up for the one I missed in transition a couple of weeks ago."

He had other plays that were just as impressive, just more subtle. He ran the floor and caught an over-the-shoulder pass from Monta Ellis in stride for a layup that drew a foul in the second quarter and set up a three-point play. Later in the period, he hit a step-back 20-footer off the dribble, and then converted another three-point play off an up-and-under move that he finished with a left-handed scooping layup while drawing a foul.

He hit 11-of-17 shots overall, grabbed a season-best rebound total for any Pacers player, and blocked three shots. He punctuated some of his highlights with pumped fists and shouts, showing even more youthful enthusiasm than usual.

"I just came out with a renewed sense of energy," he said.


"Maybe not being a teenager no more," he said. "That might have done it."

Turner's exuberance is a welcome sight on a laid-back team that struggles to find mojo against weaker opponents. He reminds somewhat of Al Harrington, who joined the Pacers straight out of high school for the 1999 season and brought innocence and vigor to a veteran locker room, although Harrington played in just 21 games and averaged 2.1 points as a rookie.

"He plays with tremendous energy," said C.J. Miles, who came off the bench to score 19 points. "You see his passion, all the time. Whether he's in the game or on the bench, he's jumping up and down. He's happy to be here. And he's got a tremendous skill set."

Turner had the look of an overnight sensation when he broke into the starting lineup on Jan. 28. He had compiled six consecutive double-figure games off the bench at that point, including 31-point and 25-point outings. He scored 20 in his debut start against the Hawks, ramping up expectations. He's generally played well since then, but has experienced inevitable rookie moments as well. He's still learning where to be at all times on offense and defense, as well as the finer points of details such as setting screens. Even Thursday night, Ellis took him aside for a brief lecture at the beginning of a timeout.

Still. For a 20-year-old he learns fast, and has room for growth that can't be measured.

"I think that kid plays as hard as he can every time he's out there," coach Frank Vogel said. "Sometimes there's a lot of mistakes involved, sometimes he gets it going.

"He's a big-time threat. Teams have to prepare differently for him because of his ability to pick and pop, and his ability to take smaller defenders down into the post. He's improving, and he's working hard on the defensive end. He's got the assignment of guarding a different type of player every night. Sometimes he's guarding a spread four, sometimes he's guarding a big guy who's going to try to pound him in the post, and he's improving at that."

The post moves might have been the most encouraging part of Turner's game against the Pelicans. His trainer back home, Ken "Slim" Roberson, claims he has a full repertoire of ways to score around the basket, but he had rarely shown them in games before Thursday. He didn't convert all of them, but he showed hints of what might be coming.

"It's something I'm trying to get into more," Turner said.

"There's a lot of stuff I haven't done yet, and a lot of stuff I need to do. That's going to come from summer work."

The Pacers look like a team that could use a lift. In the thick of a crowded race for a playoff seed, they have failed to impress in wins over two of the NBA's weakest teams, Philadelphia and the Pelicans, this week. They seemed in control of both games, but failed to lock up the victories until the final couple of minutes.

They count as wins, but could count as concerns as well.

"Big concern," said C.J. Miles, who scored 19 points off the bench. "Don't get me wrong, those guys (on the other teams) scrap and play hard, but we had a lot of stuff that we did, turnovers and things that were us not playing with a sense of urgency. You can see it. And then the frustration sets in. You give a team confidence like that and they say, Oh, man, we can pull this game out."

There are some legitimate reasons for that. Miles, for example, is coming back from a leg injury. Ty Lawson is being introduced to the reserve unit, which has yet to achieve chemistry. George had to leave Thursday's game after playing 20 minutes because of a lower leg contusion, which isn't believed to be serious.

All of that makes Turner's contributions – both in their substance and style – so vital. The rookie isn't a luxury, he's a necessity.

"He played really good," George said. "That's what we'll need from him down the stretch.

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