Professor Al Jefferson enjoys showing young guns his ‘dinosaur’ game

Class was in session Saturday night.

The incredibly talented and athletic 7-foot center Joel Embiid, hampered by injuries over his first three NBA seasons, played his first career game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and went against many different looks as the Pacers held off the Philadelphia 76ers off, 100-92.

Both teams played the previous night so fatigue and physical play was a factor all night.

Pacers starting center Myles Turner picked up two fouls three minutes in, which gave Domantas Sabonis an earlier shift on the floor and against Embiid, who was named to the All-Star team for the first time.

Late in the first period, Nate McMillan subbed in Al Jefferson for Thad Young to pair him with Sabonis — and have a fresh body on the floor against Embiid.

“We haven’t played that lineup a lot this season,” McMillan said afterwards, “but I saw an opportunity to get Al in, let Al lean on Embiid and we were going to use our three centers on him, and we did. He’s a big kid, he’s a very talented player and very physical so we needed all three of our bigs to play him. They gave him different looks and I think they did a solid job.”

On top of making his first appearance in Indy, Embiid also played in back-to-back games for the first time of his career. He said one night earlier that it would finally make him feel like a true NBA player. He played 34 minutes and still managed a double-double with a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds.

But he also turned it over seven times. The 76ers faded, shooting 32 percent in the second half including 1 of 14 from 3-point land.

“Both teams played a back-to-back and luckily I only played one minute last night so it was fresh game for me,” Jefferson said as he chuckled. “I was just trying to be aggressive and be physical with them.”

At this stage of his career, 33 and classified as outdated in today’s NBA game, Jefferson took pride in stepping in and being counted on for 14 minutes off the bench. Coach McMillan informed him before the game that they would go to him, and Jefferson, who finished with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting, credited coach for giving him the heads-up.

“It’s a different style but it’s physical. Big fella man (Joel Embiid), I’ve been in the league a long time and I ain’t ever seen a 7-1 guy who can dribble the ball the way he can, shoot the three, and do all the things that he do at his size — and is a great defender. I don’t know what’s in the food these kids eat these days, but it is a different style of play, different style of players.”

Jefferson has that old-school game, back to the basket, read and react. He can hit the short jumper and if the defense bites on a pump-fake, he’ll duck underneath them. Left hand, right hand, jump hook.

“You know Al, he’s unstoppable in the post,” said Lance Stephenson. “His footwork is amazing, you don’t know what he’s going to do. We know he’s always going to go a certain way (left), but you can’t stop it. … I know it gets the defense very frustrated.”

So many players in the Pacers’ locker room have credited Jefferson. Specifically, big men Turner, Sabonis, and rookie Ike Anigbogu for the work he’s put in with them, teaching them footwork and little things that can earn them higher percentage shots. And before games, he’s playing 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 games with the bench guys.

As athleticism and range increases for today’s players, ball skills and being effective in the post have their advantages — particularly in the postseason when the game slows down.

“I think a lot of the young guys have never seen some of the things I did,” Jefferson admitted. “[7-foot 12-year veteran center] Amir Johnson was telling me at halftime he told (Embiid), ‘Just stay down on his ball fake.’ That’s easier said than done, but (Embiid) didn’t go for it. I don’t think guys are used to the footwork I have, not being athletic but can get my shot off.

“I’m a dinosaur in this league.”

[Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

One Response to Professor Al Jefferson enjoys showing young guns his ‘dinosaur’ game
  1. […] Nonetheless, Jefferson still has respect for today’s star big men. On Sunday night, the Pacers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 100-92. Jefferson had some positive comments about Joel Embiid after the game, per Vigilant Sports’ Scott Agness. […]

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