'His motor is the best thing': Pacers rookie Ben Sheppard giving team the spark it needs
His coaches talked about what makes him special. Plus, a 1-on-1 conversation with Ben Sheppard about his rookie season and adapting to the speed of the game.
Ben Sheppard has been used sparingly throughout his rookie season until recently. Over the last few weeks, after injuries have kept Tyrese Haliburton on the sidelines and limited Andrew Nembhard at times, the 22-year-old guard has been ready for more.
Like at Tuesday’s game, when the Pacers led by eight points at halftime. They were then outscored by 20 points in the third quarter and in desperate need of a jolt of energy, something to spark a run in their first game back from a six-game road trip.
Top assistant coach Lloyd Pierce, who took over after head coach Rick Carlisle received a two-tech ejection with 8:07 left in the third period, inserted Sheppard to begin the final quarter.
And he didn’t come out.
He was the only Pacer to play the final 12 minutes.
He made both of his shots (including a three), grabbed a rebound, an assist and a steal as the Pacers tried to edge the Nuggets.
With the game tied at 100, however, Nikola Jokic took over the final four minutes. Layup, 3-pointer, layup, layup, and dagger 3-pointer. He scored 12 of their final 14 points, and finished with a triple-double (31-13-10) in a 114-109 Pacers loss.
Sheppard, meanwhile, constantly looks for ways to positively impact the game. He’s so solid, reliable and smart in his play. Like with 5:18 left when he jumped over the near sideline to save a loose ball. Then after a Pacers miss, he nearly got a steal on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and was down on the hardwood fighting for a loose ball.
He quickly popped up, raced back into position at mid-court, poked the ball from Jamal Murray (31 points) and finished a layup against two defenders. That’s a high-level sequence from a rookie who has been playing less than 10 minutes per game.
Here’s that sequence:
“I’m very proud of him,” guard T.J. McConnell said postgame. “He gave us a spark and that’s how you got to play. Just to see him do that and get the crowd into it, I’m very happy for him. Big-time minutes from him tonight.”
Earlier Tuesday, I had a conversation with Indiana Mad Ants head coach Tom Hankins after they disposed of Capital City Go-Go 122-110 and brought up Sheppard — how he’s smart, dependable and a team player. Perhaps foreshadowing to hours later, inside the same building, Sheppard revved it up in the final frame.