Wednesday, June 2, 1999

Jackson's back helps Pacers move forward




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDIANAPOLIS — Mark Jackson is the counterintuitive point guard. He does some of his best work with his back to the basket.

        Backing in, posting up, using his butt like a lead blocker, the Indiana Pacers' playmaker often penetrates posterior-first. His rear end is a seat of knowledge, and the most admired rump in the NBA playoffs — at least since the Laker Girls were eliminated.

        “That's what we discussed for an hour and a half,” Knicks assistant coach Don Chaney admitted last week. “There are a lot of different ways to handle it. We might have to do a lot of different things.”

        The Knicks attempted at least three different approaches to defending Jackson's derriere Tuesday night, and at least two of them deserved to be the butt of jokes. In a game the Pacers did their best to blow — botching 18 free throws, squandering a 17-point lead — Jackson's comparative steadiness led Indiana to an 88-86 victory at Market Square Arena.

        “We feel we have an advantage with me posting up and getting good stuff out of it,” Jackson said. “It's been like that all year. When you have guys around you who can knock down shots, it's easy basketball.”

        Jackson scored 17 points, was credited with eight assists and so dominated the slight point guard pair of Charlie Ward and Chris Childs that Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy was forced to use his leading playoff scorer (Latrell Sprewell) in a tiring defensive matchup with Jackson's tush.

        “I think Mark was really having his way with Charlie and Chris,” Pacers star Reggie Miller said.

An inspired effort
        Indiana's victory squared the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals at one game apiece and ensured that there will be at least one more NBA game played at Market Square. The Pacers, who will move to new digs next season, have lost their home-court advantage to the eighth-seeded Knicks, but they at least managed to prevent a more serious meltdown.

        “We fought and clawed and scratched and did everything,” Jackson said. “We have to be real proud of our effort. ... We got a little bit careless, a little bit lackadaisical. We relaxed a little bit. (But) a lot of teams would have folded. We executed, played great defense. It was just a big-time win.”

        Jackson's 17 points led the Pacers. Ward and Childs, meanwhile, combined for five points and 10 fouls. It was a glaring mismatch in a two-point game and was another gratifying moment for Jackson, whose NBA career began with the Knicks.

        “You always want to try to make the team that traded you regret it,” Jackson said recently. “You don't do that in just one night. You do that over the long haul.”

Intuition over intimidation
        Jackson has been the Pacers' point guard the last two times they have eliminated the Knicks in the playoffs. Those series have contained some of the most memorable performances in his 13-year career. In the decisive fifth game of last year's semifinals, Jackson scored 22 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and made 13 assists. Jackson is borderline squat and perhaps a step slow, but shrewd and intuitive.

        “I wasn't as gifted athletically as the majority of the other guys in quickness and jumping ability,” he said in a recent interview. “So at a very early age I had to out-think (others) and I had to use my mind as far as the game was concerned. I'm still doing the same things I did when I was 12 years old.”

        In Game One, Jackson's post-up plays were slightly off. He missed some open shots down the stretch in New York's 93-90 victory. Tuesday, his only miss from the field was on a three-point attempt.

        “I knew Mark would bounce back,” Pacers coach Larry Bird said. “We let him make things happen. That's what he's all about. He's a battler.”

        A battler is a guy who makes forward progress even when he's moving backward.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

NBA playoffs coverage from Associated Press
SULLIVAN ARCHIVE