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Myles Turner records complete performance and new milestone in Pacers' win over the Pelicans
Turner had a game he should be proud of Monday in the team's best win of the young season. "Our belief in each other and our belief in our coaching staff and the culture is what’s carrying us."
Myles Turner had a different look to him in Monday’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans. He was a man on a mission.
The Pacers’ center was locked in and deliberate in everything he did. More so than I can remember in his eight-year career, all with Indiana.
It wasn’t his season-high 37 points that stood out. It wasn’t his perfect mark at the foul line (11-11). It wasn’t his 12 rebounds, four above his average, and it wasn’t his three blocks that helped him cross the 1,000-block mark for his career.
No, it was more important than that.
It was how he played. It was his activity level, engagement and, to use a description head coach Rick Carlisle prefers, it was his disposition.
Turner had it on Monday night and it was a beautiful thing to watch.
I wonder what sparked it, whether it be a conversation with a teammate, a heart-to-heart with a coach, a push from his parents, something he saw on film. Definitely something, right?
“I think I’m just taking this leadership role on a lot more,” he replied. “I feel like it’s more of a lead by example kind of thing. Just trying to be out there and be solid for my guys. I feel like that’s a big part of what I’m here for and a big part of what I need to do for my younger teammates to see the way I go into game and see how I’m more locked in and then follow suit. It’s just part of the challenge I’m taking on.”
Turner, 26, has been around since 2015 — a lifetime compared to his teammates. Most players don’t make it in the NBA for eight years and he’s done it all for the team that drafted him.
He views himself as the big brother of the locker room. “That’s the thing, I don’t have to change nothing,” he said before the season about having to help lead this team. “Imma go in here and be myself.”
I think he sees how he keys to the franchise have been placed in the hands of point guard Tyrese Haliburton and how everyone is enamored by both the present and the future of rookie Bennedict Mathurin. For his entire career, he’s been trying to figure out where he fits in and where he can help.
That’s why you frequently hear him and others members of the team repeat publicly how he’s “the best shot-blocker in the world.” He does that very well and it’s become his identity. As Domantas Sabonis put up bigger numbers and earned multiple All-Star appearances, Turner did what he was asked by the team even though he wanted to show his capabilities.
“I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface of my potential whatsoever,” he’s said a few times.
His offseason focus was getting healthy after not being able to complete the past two seasons due to injury. That bothered him. It frustrated him not being out there and alongside his teammates, and not being eligible for postseason awards.
He took it easy to begin his offseason as his foot healed, then went on a few trips across the country to explore and reset with those he trusted most. Then, it was back home to Texas to lock in and prepare for being the primary 5-man for the first time since his sophomore campaign when Sabonis was acquired.
“I’m in great shape and I’m feeling good,” Turner said to start the season. “Mentally, I’m in a great spot. I’m ready to go out there and deliver this year.”
And that’s just what he did against the Pelicans, an individual performance I won’t forget anytime soon. He impacted the game from the jump; here’s what he did in just the first two minutes:
Contested a shot at the basket by Jonas Valanciunas.
Set a screen for Buddy Hield at the other end, then rolled to the hoop for a layup.
Grabbed a defensive rebound.
Pushed Zion Williamson away from the basket, then snatched down the rebound a few seconds later.
Forced Zion baseline toward help, then got a steal that led to a layup for Jalen Smith.
The Pacers, who have frequently got off to slow starts in games, raced ahead 7-0 in the first 2:12 — which prompted the Pelicans to use an early timeout.
We’ve seen it throughout his career: actively involving Turner early in games often leads to a productive night. And that continued to be the case.
“That definitely energizes me,” Turner acknowledged. “Whenever I start running the floor, get out in transition and use my speed to my advantage at my position, it definitely helps.”
Again, it wasn’t his scoring or offensive productivity, it was his level of assertiveness and how he did the simple things with a purpose.
Communicating, setting screens, rolling to the basket and going into shots.
No hesitation at all.
“I think it was just knowing the way their defense is structured and knowing that I have my opportunities that night,” he said. “Also, my teammates are encouraging me to shoot more. A lot of the guys tell me I pass up some shots that I shouldn’t so I think I was more dialed into that.”
He took advantage of his matchup and how the Pelicans elected to guard him, and shot it without hesitation when they were in drop coverage — meaning they were sagging back at the 3-point line, leaving him open (like Washington has done).
Then late in the game, he had the advantage in the paint so he put his rear end on the defender, then demanded the ball some more.
Not just wanting and calling for the ball, but demanding it with a smaller player on him.
“Just playing within himself,” Carlisle said of Turner’s play. “We’ve been really emphasizing rolling to the basket and being the more or less 5-man. … Getting him rolling and a 7-foot guy around the basket should lead to some good things.”
The Pacers are off to a 5-5 start and the return of Myles Turner from injury has helped defensively — they rank third in opponent paint points (43.2 ppg) — and he gives them another option offensively. This team is going to score; they’re fifth in the NBA in points per game and second in both 3-pointers made and attempted. So it’s not about whether he scores 12 or 24 points on a given night.
Turner is a much better player when he’s locked in like he was on both ends — running the floor, stepping into his shot and earning trips to the foul line. He actively chased down his 10th rebound with several minutes left in the third quarter for his second double-double of the season. Rebounding is one area of improvement he is giving more attention to.
Even his 1,000th block was memorable because he challenged Williamson at the rim and stuffed it against the glass. (He’s now fourth in Pacers’ NBA history behind Jermaine O’Neal (1,245), Rik Smits (1,111) and Herb Williams (1,094).
“It’s a huge moment for me and a testament to my hard work and my timing,” he said. “… But I’m not satisfied with 1,000. It’s a nice milestone to celebrate for a night, but I want a thousand more, and then on and then on. It was special that I was able to share it with my teammates and do it in a Pacers uniform?
With 8:59 left in the game, headed a loud applause from fans as he was subbed out. Many on their feet in recognition for his performance. And it was well-deserved after playing a team-high 37 minutes. To make it even sweater, the Pacers had grown their lead to 16 points by that point.
I wondered what he was proud of from the game.
“I think I was most proud of our composure toward the end,” he said. “When you’re up the entire game, the pressure is on you. And whenever other teams start making runs or hitting some big shots — they got big-time players on that side of the floor. I don’t think they ever got to single-digits, but it felt closer than what it was and I was very happy with the way Tyrese and our point guards were able to handle the game. And that’s going to be important for us going forward if we’re looking to be a playoff team.”
Now 10 games in, we’re starting to see team chemistry on display. We’re seeing guys know where they and others need to be. We’re seeing Haliburton and Hield continue with their friendly back-and-forth. We’re seeing veteran James Johnson, a newcomer to the team but certainly not the league, pull Jalen Smith aside after he made a mistake and explain what he should do differently.
“We don’t really worry about expectations that are put on us outside of this facility,” Turner said. “Our belief in each other and our belief in our coaching staff and the culture is what’s carrying us and we got to keep on doing that.”
It wasn’t a perfect performance — he made some defensive mistakes, blew a layup, etc. — but Turner played the way he’s capable of.
After speaking with reporters at practice eon Tuesday, assistant coach Mike Weinar called him over to a table where a MacBook Pro laptop was open. “I’ve got one play to show you,” he told Turner.
Because there’s always something more that can be done.
Turner should be proud of his performance and the team’s. They’ve won three of four games since his return and need to capitalize on a friendly stretch they’re in the middle of: eight of 10 games at home.
“The people here are having a lot of fun,” TV analyst Quinn Buckner said during the game broadcast. “I don’t know what they thought they were going to see, but seeing this kind of basketball has to be pleasing. Much more pleasing than what has been in the past.”