‘We lose a lot’: How the Pacers plan to carry on without Jeremy Lamb

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“I had a pretty good view of the play and it looked pretty awkward, but he wasn’t writhing in pain so I thought maybe it was something minor,” T.J. McConnell said.

Since Lamb started for the first three months, the effective and energetic second unit is united once again. The key for the group is changing the pace — playing fast and moving the ball. That’s when the unit is at its best.

“Your heart just breaks for Jeremy,” added McConnell, who passed it to Lamb. “I was in utter shock when he came in and told us. I was not expecting that at all. Then all of us got up, went to comfort him in the training room. It was a pretty hard moment, all of us were pretty emotional tearing up a little bit. It was just really hard. You could tell it was hitting him pretty hard as it should. It was a difficult moment for sure.”

Pacers head coach Nate McMillan was informed of the news Monday morning by head athletic trainer Josh Corbeil and he then had Corbeil share the news with the team in the film room before the players took the court.

Then on Tuesday, with Lamb watching in a suite with his family, his teammates won in a dominating fashion over Lamb’s previous team, 119-80. It was their largest win of the season.

It turned out to be multiple things from his violent fall. A torn ACL in his left knee, a torn lateral meniscus and a lateral femoral condylar fracture. The first significant injury of Lamb’s professional career.

“I know what he’s feeling,” Oladipo said at Monday’s practice. “You kind of go through life and when tough things happen, you say you can only imagine what you’re going through, but I know exactly what he’s going through. I know his head is kind of all over the place. It’s unfortunate how it happened and stuff like that. Just got to embrace the process and trust it.”

Second-year guard Aaron Holiday is now back firmly in the rotation. Older brother Justin, who has mostly played the 4 since earning the minutes over TJ Leaf, returns to his natural guard position, and Doug McDermott might get some of those minutes as well. At least until Sumner is healthy. Oladipo is hopeful to be ready for Thursday’s nationally televised game against the Trail Blazers.

Making matters worse this week, other guards are currently missing time due to injuries. On Tuesday, Oladipo was sidelined for his second game in a row due to back spasms that flared up in New York and Edmond Sumner is still bothered by a sore hip after a hard fall in practice last week. In turn, it required Justin Holiday to play that role and seldom-used JaKarr Sampson was the first player off the bench.

Lamb is currently considering his options before scheduling surgery. He’ll evaluate where and by whom to have the surgery done. And once the swelling decreases in his knee, doctors will want to operate.

“It definitely sucked,” said Domantas Sabonis, who got the steal leading to the fast break. “You never want any injuries no matter who it is, teammate or non-teammate. We’re all family in this league, and it’s sad to hear that. Jeremy is a great guy on and off the court, and we just wish him the best.”

“He gives us length at our guard position with him playing (and) rebounding the basketball,” McMillan said. “We’ve put the ball in his hands a lot this season, as far as running some sets for him. We lose a lot when you lose a guy who was a starter for you most of the season. It’s next man up, which we’ve been pretty much playing that way most of the season. It’s very similar to losing Victor last season, a guy who played a big part in what you’re doing there and your success.”

The injury occurred early in the franchise’s worst loss since 1977, a 46-point beatdown from the Raptors. The charter flight home was quiet for that reason. Not much can be said.

What will his recovery look like?

Meanwhile, two-way guard Naz Mitrou-Long is nearing his return from a bone bruise in his right foot and is hopeful to return to the floor Sunday with the Mad Ants of the G League.

INJURED GUARD JEREMY LAMB IS AT THE GAME — BUT UP IN A SUITE, OUT OF HARM’S WAY— SCOTT AGNESS (@SCOTTAGNESS) FEBRUARY 26, 2020

After four seasons in a losing situation with Charlotte, Lamb started and filled in nicely as Oladipo completed his rehab and missed the first 47 games of the season. Lamb, who turns 28 in May, averaged 12.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in 46 games before the injury.

“The vibe was down and I know we wanted to get this one for Jeremy for sure,” McConnell said.

“It puts this (basketball) in perspective, it puts life in perspective,” veteran Justin Holiday said.

The past seven months have been eventful for Lamb. He joined a winning environment with the Pacers on a three-year deal worth $31.5 million, then he welcomed his daughter, Halo Amor, into the world and now has suffered a major injury. He’s a proud dad and will need her just as she needs him. Flyguy, as he’s known around the team, has the full support of the Pacers organization and his teammates as he will soon undergo surgery and be away from the game he loves.

“That was incredible that he was able to step up there and block everything out,” Turner said. “I know that he was hurting. He was able to knock those two shots down and walk off the floor. Just a testament to his mental toughness.”

“I change my position, so I had to think about plays we were running,” Justin Holiday said. “Instead of running out onto the court to the 4 spot, (now) running to the 2 spot. Other than that, it’s just playing basketball. The thing I start with always is effort and so that won’t change for me.”

Lamb came down awkwardly on a straight-line dunk after being challenged by the Raptors’ Terence Davis II on Sunday. Initially, there was some optimism regarding Lamb’s left knee that night after undergoing X-rays. But seeing him lean on head athletic trainer Josh Corbeil to leave the Toronto locker room, it was obvious that this was not a short-term injury. They didn’t know how bad until he underwent an MRI on Monday morning in Indianapolis.

“We talked and our second unit has the next-man-up mentality,” McConnell said. “Luckily, throughout the beginning of the year, the guys that are in the second unit played together for half the year so we can pick up where we left off and try to change the game.”

Lamb suffered the trifecta with ligament, cartilage and bone damage. According to Jeff Stotts, operator of InStreetClothes.com, recent ACL tears in NBA players kept them out roughly 342 days. The best-case scenario is for him to be healthy enough to return next March, not enough time to make a significant impact but enough to play in games and, like Paul George, clear the mental hurdle before a long offseason.

If it was just an ACL injury, you could expect Lamb to be out about 11 to 12 months. That common injury has a relatively standard timeline. But on top of that, a torn lateral meniscus and a lateral femoral condylar fracture will require more extensive surgery and inevitably lead to additional missed time.

“You don’t ever want to see any athlete go through something like that,” Turner said. “I think it’s pretty catastrophic, pretty significant what J-Lamb is going through, but he knows that everybody on this team has his back and he’s going to have to attack the recovery process and try to get back better than ever. I think he’s more than capable of doing it, it’s just a matter of keeping a positive mindset. I know that’s what got Vic through it and he’s going to have to do the same thing.”

“We’re lucky enough that everyone can play on our roster,” Sabonis said. “Now they just have to be ready.”

Whom do the Pacers turn to?

The last image Lamb left on the court in his first season with the Pacers was his ability to stand up and knock down two foul shots before needing assistance off the court, back to the locker room, where he took off his uniform for good in 2020.

For the second consecutive season, a Pacers player suffered a serious injury on a freak play against the Raptors. Last season, in January, it was Victor Oladipo who went down and had to be lifted by teammates.

The best option to replace him likely will be on their roster. The reality is that anyone unsigned right now would have a learning curve, and there’s a reason they’re without a job. Pacers fans are pushing for a third act from Lance Stephenson; there was even a chant of “We want Lance” at the end of Tuesday’s win, but don’t get your hopes up. League sources say that is not under consideration. Stephenson, who has most recently played in China, lost his biggest advocate within the franchise in Larry Bird, who is now partially retired and living in Naples, Fla. But sources told The Athletic Indiana that Stephenson would welcome a reunion as he’s eager to return to the NBA.

One day after he received the news that he would need surgery and have basketball taken away from him for the next year, Jeremy Lamb was at Tuesday’s Pacers game to support his teammates against the Hornets. He sat in a suite out of harm’s way, with his girlfriend Hali and their infant daughter. It’s undoubtedly a painful and emotional time for the guard who signed with the Pacers in the offseason.

“When you get beat like you get beat in Toronto, you have to come out the next game and send a message for your morale and to feel better,” said Myles Turner, who finished with six points, 10 rebounds and a career-high eight blocks. “We came out there and we meant business.”

“They got it and everybody’s in a shock,” McMillan said. “You think that guys are going to return this season, but when you hear that a guy is out for a season, you know it’s a major injury and your first thought is his return. Just a sad situation. You don’t want to see injuries like that.”