New season, new style: Pacers unleashed
Coach says team can play at varied speeds; players eager to run
By Mike Wells
It would happen so often in seasons past. Jamaal Tinsley would receive an outlet pass, quickly dribble between his legs to elude a defender and look up court as teammates filled the lanes.
A fast-break opportunity would appear likely -- until coach Rick Carlisle put up the stop sign.
Carlisle, who keeps a blue card with plays in the inner pocket of his suit, often hopped out of his seat, removed the card and yelled out an offensive set.
Tinsley would stop and, with a look of frustration on his face, carry out the coach's wishes.
The Indiana Pacers hope Carlisle puts away the card this season, which begins today with the start of training camp at Conseco Fieldhouse. Their offense was reconstructed with that belief in mind. Every trade, signing and draft pick was done to become more athletic, more difficult to defend. Carlisle spent part of the summer discussing with players a new offensive approach.
"(Carlisle has) done a great job reaching out and asking questions about our preferences," forward Jermaine O'Neal said. "I think he understands that now we're built to run. A guy like Jamaal Tinsley, he's not really built for a half-court offense because he has the ability to break down the defense and get the ball up and make precise passes. . . . I think the city is going to be happy about this style of play. I think we kind of got predictable the last couple of years with our style of play, and it wasn't really fun to watch."
Tinsley admitted Monday that occasionally he was frustrated by Carlisle's decisions. But he added, "I can't control how he wants to play. I just take orders."
The Pacers don't expect to average nearly 108 points a game like the Phoenix Suns did last season, but Carlisle thinks there will be more freedom.
"My goal is to do the right thing to help us win based on the personnel we have," Carlisle said in an interview last week. "Creativity is hindered by too much structure. We have to find the right balance between staying creative and staying with a system that allows us to be good defensively and still get out and do some explosive things on the offensive end. That's the goal of this training camp."
Carlisle spent the summer looking at different teams' offensive systems. He noted NBA finalists Miami and Dallas weren't married to -- or restrained by -- a single style.
"They were teams that could play fast or slow," Carlisle said. "Those games in the Finals weren't track meets. They were good basketball games that featured different paces. The one thing that was consistent was that both teams defended at a high level and were able to rebound the ball.
"We have to be careful. We don't want to compromise the ability to win games by trying to play a pretty style. I think that's something we have to really study closely."
Carlisle occasionally let go of the offensive reins last season, primarily when injuries forced his hand. In February, when O'Neal, the team's best low post threat, was out, the Pacers went 7-3 and averaged nearly 98 points -- five more than their season average.
O'Neal encouraged the Pacers to continue the up-tempo style upon his
return, but the team soon fell back into its half-court style that revolved around passes to him in the post.
"Last year was probably the slowest that I ever played basketball, other than with the exception of the one year I had in Barcelona," backup point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius said. "Let's hope we can (speed up) because last year we also tried it but it didn't work out that way. Let's hope it's going to change."
Even as the Pacers speed up their play, Carlisle won't spend much time sitting on the bench, wrinkling his suit. He'll hop up and pull out that blue card if the pace becomes helter-skelter or the Pacers make poor decisions.
"One of the inherent responsibilities of playing a more free-flowing style is you have responsibility to play to your strengths," he said. "It's our jobs as coaches to make sure guys understand what their role is and what we expect of them, and we are going to be very explicit with how we approach that."
Call Star reporter Mike Wells at (317) 444-6053.