Next man up; Al Jefferson filled in acceptably during the injuries to the Pacers other big men.
Domantas Sabonis went down with an ankle injury during a game on March 13th against the Philadelphia 76ers. For the Indiana Pacers, this wasn’t a huge deal. Myles Turner can play heavier minutes with no issue, and Al Jefferson can play 10 minutes or so in a game and not get the Pacers killed.
Obviously, losing Sabonis was a massive bummer. He is solidly better than Jefferson and is one of the only reasons the second unit is actually able to score. But Jefferson’s presence made losing Sabonis slightly more palatable.
In the game Sabonis went down with the injury, big Al filled in for six minutes and was a +3. He always seems to play well against Philly, who has younger big men not accustomed to guarding Al’s play style.
But in Jefferson’s next game against the Toronto Raptors, the optics changed.
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Jefferson does well as a backup center. His awful defense is less of a liability against opposing second units, and he is an offensive talent against whoever is guarding him. But Jefferson’s biggest challenge is his age. He recently crossed 33 years old, and in his older age, he can’t play big minutes. That is why the game against Toronto was a turning point for Jefferson. In that game, Myles Turner injured his ankle, too.
What bad luck for the Pacers, their two best big men going down with an injury in back to back games. It felt like the season was unraveling, and a combination of Trevor Booker and Jefferson did not feel like enough in the post.
But Jefferson played better than anyone could have thought, and altered the narrative.
Against Toronto, the veteran center had 20 points and 12 rebounds on 9/15 shooting. He was making Jakob Poetlt look foolish possession after possession, and he was beating everyone to every rebound. His vintage playstyle was dominant in this game:
The big fella!
Though the Pacers lost that game, Jefferson was a +3. He found a way, even with his bad defense and outdated style of play, to be a positive player.
The Turner injury forced Nate McMillan to start Al during a game against the Washington Wizards. Jefferson was 4/11 and had 10 points and nine rebounds. It wasn’t a sexy stat line, but it was solid. Jefferson once again kept the Pacers afloat.
Turner returned to the starting lineup the following game against the Lakers, but Jefferson filled in as the backup once again. He blocked two Lakers shots and showed more defensive skill than he ever had before in a Pacers uniform:
All in all, Al showed exactly why he is a member of this team. He isn’t quite good enough to crack the rotation, but he is solid enough to get the job done if any injury is to occur.
He played in five games with Sabonis on the shelf. In those games, he finished 15/35 from the field with 38 points, 25 rebounds, seven blocks. Those are solid numbers, and his play off the bench is a huge reason why the Pacers were able to win two of the five games without Sabonis (and Turner in one of them).
Fans should be happy to have Al Jefferson on the team. He offers a stable veteran presence every day, but he can come in and offer on-court help in a pinch. His contributions during this period full of injuries were huge for the Pacers and should not soon be forgotten.