Young rewards Vogel’s faith
Game 1 in Madison Square Garden was a disaster for Sam Young, whose stat line looked like something out of a Jayvee game: no points, three turnovers, a foul and two rebounds in 5 minutes, 47 seconds.
Pacers fans nearly set Twitter on fire after that game, calling for him to be benched for the remainder of the Pacers’ playoff series with New York. Or, perhaps, thrown in jail.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel wasn’t swayed. He declared the next day that he would stick with Young, and he did. And he was rewarded. Young had two games that caused no further harm and three that were definitely positive over the final five games of the series, particularly in Saturday’s 106-99 close-out of the Knicks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Playing 9 minutes and 21 seconds off the bench,Young tossed five points, five rebounds, a blocked shot and sturdy defense onto the Pacers’ pile. It amounted to a statement for a coach’s faith in a player, and a player’s dedication to the cause.
“Even when I’ve played bad, he’s always stayed positive,” Young said of Vogel in the postgame locker room. “That’s just the kind of coach he is. He keeps a positive mindset, he keeps a positive outlook on the future.”
Young’s teammates, of course, had his back, too. But only in a locker room trash talking kind of way. The Pacers won Game 1, so it was easy to make fun of the guy who had looked like he had played blindfolded.
“We were joking on him, man,” David West said, smiling at the memory. “We called him ‘Tragic.’ He had the worst five minutes you can have. But he bounced back.”
And that’s the heart of this story. Young bounced back from “one of the worst games I’ve ever played,” because he went to work. He ran two miles on a treadmill in the team’s Manhattan hotel that night. He ran two miles both morning and night on most days after that, usually on a treadmill, but sometimes on the streets of Indianapolis. He also arrived early for practice and put up extra shots, and sometimes ran sprints as well.
“I wanted to let (Vogel) know through my actions I would never, ever have another performance like that,” Young said.
It wasn’t all for show, though. The extra running helped his stamina, and the extra shooting helped his confidence. Over the final five games of the series, he totaled 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting, with nine rebounds and one turnover. He made his greatest impact in the second quarter on Saturday, when he grabbed a weakside rebound of George Hill’s missed three-pointer and scored on a reverse layup, and followed by blocking Carmelo Anthony’s three-pointer from behind.
“My wind felt better,” he said. “I was going for loose balls that I wasn’t going for before. You just feel it within the game. You’re more detailed about different things if you’re not focused on your wind.”
Young played in just two of the six games of the Pacers’ first-round series with Atlanta, for a total of 10 minutes. So, when Vogel called upon him early in Game 1 of the next round against New York, it came as a bit of a shock.
“I felt I was sluggish; I felt I didn’t have my legs under me,” he said. “But you’re a professional and there’s no excuse.”
The Twitter reaction was one thing, but the response from family and friends was much worse.
“When people that I love and care about are coming at me, it means more to me. They were saying, ‘You played bad. You need to get it together.’ They were affected by it.”
Young could have a bigger role in Vogel’s rotation for the series with Miami. He was signed in the off-season for this series, really, as someone who can help defend LeBron James. Not to stop James, nor to contain James, just to make it as difficult as possible for James when Paul George isn’t defending him.
Chances are, he’ll be ready from the beginning this time.