In case this is your first time here, here’s the concept of This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: I take an interesting picture from the history of the Indiana Pacers from ABA glory to the modern era and literally write 1,000 words about the photo.
If you missed the first and second of the series: Here’s my analysis of Reggie-Miller-tortured Knicks fans and here’s a look at Roger Brown and the ABA days.
My 1,000 words start now:
First, it is extremely hard to find pictures for this game, so this will kind of be “the box score is worth a thousand words” this time around with a couple of pictures sprinkled in.
Could you tell what game this is from just the Pacers side of the box score?
Fred Jones and Eddie Gill played all 48 minutes. The Pacers were limited to having only six players. Some guy named John Edwards played 15 minutes.
Maybe this last hint would get you there without the title of the post: the game was played on November 20, 2004.
That’s right. The day after the infamous Malice in the Palace at Auburn Hills.
Thanks to the immediate suspensions coming from the brawl (Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal, Stephen Jackson) as well as injuries to a few others (Reggie Miller, Jeff Foster, and Anthony Johnson), the Pacers were limited to only the six players pictured below (Austin Croshere, Fred Jones, John Edwards, James Jones, Eddie Gill, and David Harrison), which included zero regular starters, to face off against the Orlando Magic. Scot Pollard and Jamaal Tinsley dressed in this game because teams have to dress at least eight players but were unavailable to play due to injury.
At the time of this game, the length of the suspensions had still not been decided by David Stern. Artest, Jackson, and O’Neal were just given an indefinite suspension initially and wouldn’t know how long they’d be out until the next day.
For Pacers fans, this game was a welcome distraction to the alternative of dwelling on whether a hard foul and a tossed beverage would be ruining the Pacers best chance at a championship since the glory days of the ABA. Sadly, it would, but it did give us this very unique game that started with the PA announcer reminding fans that anyone who threw objects or tried to get on the court would be arrested.
The Fieldhouse crowd cheered and applauded the announcement.
Of course, with these six players, the Pacers didn’t have a great shot at beating anyone in the preseason, let alone a game that actually counted. But instead of getting blown out by Grant Hill, Steve Francis and the Magic, the Pacers held their own and almost made this one of the greatest underdog victories in Pacers history as they lost 86-83.
“We had guys who had never played as a unit in an NBA game,” Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle told the AP after the game. “I’m disappointed. We went out there to win the game, even given these unusual circumstances.”
Try imagining how the Pacers would do if Joe Young, Glenn Robinson III, Georges Niang, Rakeem Christmas, and Lavoy Allen were all forced to play nearly an entire game. This was the situation the Pacers were in.
The star of the game for this ragtag group of Pacers was Fred Jones, a first-round pick in 2002 that’s most well known for winning one of the worst dunk contests of all-time in 2004. Jones scored a career-high 31 points in his 48 minutes and missed a game-tying three at the buzzer.
“That’s the most tired I’ve ever been,” Jones remembered before Monday’s game against the Spurs. “I could have scored 50 if I was in better shape.”
Many of the players the Pacers had available were not used to playing much at all, yet all the starters in this one played 40+ minutes. At this point in their careers, only Austin Croshere, who added 11 points in his 42 minutes, had ever been a regular rotation player.
James Jones, now known as the guy that follows LeBron James to the NBA Finals every year, was only in his second year in the NBA at this point after being drafted by the Pacers in the second round the previous season. Jones put up a double double on only five shots with 12 points and 12 rebounds in 43 minutes.
Eddie Gill, who now works on the pre- and post-game shows with Fox Sports Indiana, was a journeyman point guard that bounced around on six different teams in eight NBA seasons and also played a couple of years overseas in the middle of that stretch. He only scored 8 points, but he matched up well against Francis while holding him to an inefficient 13 points on 16 shots in 42 minutes.
John Edwards only played in the NBA for two seasons and a total of 65 games. Not surprising when he only played 15 minutes in a game when his team only had six players available. His two points were above his career average of 1.5 points per game.
David Harrison was a rookie first-round pick thrust into action earlier than expected because of injuries to Jeff Foster and Scot Pollard. Harrison is now most known for his well-documented hatred of Jim O’Brien, who replaced Rick Carlisle as head coach. Harrison, who at this point in his career was showing some promise, actually outplayed a fellow rookie by the name of Dwight Howard, who was drafted first in 2004. Harrison went 29th.
Harrison put up 19 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and two steals against Howard, who managed only five points to go with his 11 rebounds and four blocks on the night.
The Magic’s eventual NBA finals squad has some roots here with Howard, Jameer Nelson, and Hedo Turkoglu. All three were in their first season with the Magic. Howard and Nelson were rookies while Turkoglu joined the team after playing his first four season with the Kings and Spurs.
The severely undermanned Pacers went back and forth with the Magic as they trailed by six after the first quarter 26-20, but won the second quarter 24-20 to cut the Orlando lead to only two. The Pacers continued their spirited play into the second half and entered the fourth quarter tied with the Magic.
“We played a very inspired Indiana team,” Magic Coach Johnny Davis told the AP. “They gave us all we could handle.”
The Pacers kept it close throughout the final frame, but were down four points with only seven seconds to go before Fred Jones hit a three to cut the lead to only one.
“I knew what I was getting into when the night started; there’s no back-down in this locker room,” Jones told the AP.
Hill, who scored 28 points on only 16 shots, made both free throws to push the lead back to three, and Jones failed to finish off his Reggie Miller impression as he missed a 28-foot 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
The Pacers underdog effort fell just short, but the fact that I still remember this November regular season game over 12 years later says a lot. One of the strangest situations any team has ever been in with only six players from the back of the bench available, and they almost pulled it off.