Meeting of the minds seems to give Pacers a life over past 2 games
After the Detroit debacle -- the most recent Detroit debacle, the one Sunday on national TV -- the Indiana Pacers who still care deeply about this franchise had seen enough. It was bad enough getting blown out by the Pistons on national TV, but during garbage time, there was Dale Davis, merrily hoisting up 3-point shots while his teammates laughed the day away on the sideline.
So Monday before the team's home game against the New York Knicks, Austin Croshere called a fairly rare players-only meeting. It lasted only 10 minutes, but a handful of veterans, notably Croshere, threw down the gauntlet.
Then Wednesday, before a 117-112 victory over the Boston Celtics, Jermaine O'Neal met with team president Larry Bird and CEO Donnie Walsh, "to clear the air about some things related to the team. This was something we'd planned to do a week ago and just didn't have the time. But it was good for all of us to have our say.''
Whatever was said, and however it was said, it appeared Monday and Wednesday night that it lit a very small fire under some players' body parts. It was obvious in their game, their body language, their willingness to chase down loose balls and challenge shots.
"We were playing for each other,'' said Anthony Johnson, whose late-game drive held off a manic Boston run in the final minutes. "That's something we haven't done in a while.''
The impact of team meetings, especially players-only meetings like this one, can be easily overstated. This team has been so inconsistent all season, so fragile, it wouldn't surprise anybody if it laid an egg at home Friday against Minnesota. Or got tripped up on the road against Charlotte and Toronto before finishing up at home against Orlando. But the simple fact somebody cared enough to call a meeting, to stand up and challenge his teammates, is a good sign in and of itself.
"After that Detroit game, I wasn't sleeping good, and I thought, 'I've got to get something off my chest,' " Croshere said after a second straight productive game. "Maybe nobody will agree with me, maybe they won't listen and they'll walk away, but I've got to say something. I may not be the best player on the team or the captain, but being here nine years, I thought it gave me a platform from which to speak.
"A couple of us got up and talked, and basically we said, 'If we're going to go down, let's go down the right way, the way we're capable of.' And everybody agreed with everybody else. We've had players meeting with coaches before, but I thought it was necessary for it to be players only this time. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you even think to have that conversation.''
Now, nobody is going to do cartwheels over the Pacers' first consecutive victories in six weeks -- they came, after all, against two wretched teams, the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics.
Finally, though, we saw some signs of life. Finally, we saw the team they should have been long before things reached this desperate stage. There was ball movement. There was rebounding. There was passion.
Where's this been all year?
"The last two games, we're playing better, happier for each other, more assists and less turnovers,'' Croshere said. "It's fun to be out there. It's fun to be on the bench for the first time in a while. I certainly think things are headed in the right direction. But it doesn't take away from the problems we've had. I don't think anybody is pretending the last eight games didn't exist.''
As for O'Neal, he said his meeting had absolutely nothing to do with Bird's published comments in Tuesday's newspaper.
It did, however, look like O'Neal had been challenged. His energy was apparent from the start. Even as Boston's Kendrick Perkins kept blocking his shots -- or fouling him, depending on your perspective -- O'Neal continued to take it strong to the basket. More, though, he had 15 rebounds and seven assists, as strong an all-around game as he's had in a while.
"Me and the front office had a long talk about everything,'' O'Neal said. "The air needed to be cleared, and it was very constructive. We laid it all on the line. We have a better understanding about each other, and my future with the team.''
Then he smiled. "I have a long future with this team,'' he said.
Certainly, he played Wednesday night like a man who desperately wants to stay in Indianapolis. Even in Monday's game, when his numbers were less than inspiring, his willingness to stay on the bench late in the game while his teammates were on a run made a good impression.
"The thing he did (Monday), the things he did in this game, that rubs off on everybody,'' Croshere said.
It's probably way too little, way too late. But, well, it's something.
Another good Kavitz article. As others have said he's pretty good when he doesn't go overboard on opinion. I've started reading him again.
It's interesting that the Pacers are clearing the air. We've also learned in the last few days that Carlisle and JO aren't going anywhere. Personally I never thought they were but the chin music on here that wanted them gone got pretty deafening.