Lester Conner appeared intent on making the most of his head coaching opportunity with the Pacers, even if it was just for one night while Jim O'Brien attended a funeral for his mother-in-law.
Conner oozes personality and a positive vibe and the coach had plenty to say before and after the game, in fact he may still be talking (I had to go home at some point). Of course, winning brings out the best in all of us, but no matter how much he tried to pawn it off as a substitute teaching gig, Conner made his point that he was in charge for the night and put his imprint on the game.
For one night anyway, everything Conner did worked. In fact, Pacers Sports and Entertainment President, Jim Morris made an appearance at Conner's post-game press conference, briefly interrupting near the end to offer his congratulations and a handshake to Conner. Funny, I don't go to every game, but I've never seen Morris fist-bump JOB after a W.
Prior to the game, Conner was surprisingly candid when discussing his coaching style and the one-night opportunity to be the head man.
"Anytime you can get experience being the head guy, it's always good for you," Conner explained an hour before the game. "One thing about coaching under Coach O'Brien is that he's always told me to prepare as if I was the head coach even though I was the assistant coach for him so when things like this come up it will all come natural so I'm pretty prepared for this so nothing that will happen will catch me off guard."
Conner has been a faithful assistant, coaching with JOB for about eight of the ten years that he's been an assistant coach in the NBA. He's always comported himself well on the sidelines and nothing in his attitude or effort would suggest otherwise. But when given the opportunity, Conner jumped at the chance to emphasize that he is not a JOB clone.
With an eye toward a head coaching job at some point in his career, Conner was asked how much Jim O'Brien would be in his coaching style when that day arrives.
"Umm, not a whole lot," Conner said to the surprise of everyone listening. But he was just getting started.
More from coach Conner along with the links after the jump.
"There will be a little bit." Conner continued. "I think we're different in a bunch of different ways so I take things that I like and the things that I don't, I may keep on the side and use them if need be. But I'm a little different, you know, being a player in this league you have an advantage on playing the game and knowing the game. Just a different approach, you know, like tonight, if something works I'll probably stay with it until they defend it. That's something that he likes to come back to it a little bit and that's his choice. I think tonight if something works I'm going to say, run it again just to make them stop it."
Conner backed up his words, starting Hibbert at center and imploring his team to attack the paint. After the game Conner admitted changing things offensively by dusting off some plays the team hadn't used in a while and also altering the pick and roll approach based on something the coaches saw in Sunday's game against Toronto. Also, successful playing rotations did stay on the court longer than usual, though, but nothing changed in the defensive approach which was evident by the 115 points Toronto scored.
But in reality, nothing was that drastically different and this was one game. Today Conner returns to trusted assistant and in finishing up his pre-game comments on his coaching style, he made sure to re-iterate why he's coached with JOB for so long despite some personal differences in philosophy.
"But you know, we're totally different guys, I'm 6'4" and he's 5'4" or something (laughs)," Conner joked as he came back around to prop up his boss. "But I've learned everything from him and he's one of the best. It may not have showed over the years here, but he's one of the best coaches that I've been around and I've been around a long time as far as playing and coaching. If you add those together it's almost 25 years, so he's a pretty good coach."
So now Lester Conner moves back down a seat, but for a two-day coaching gig, Conner deserves credit for seizing the opportunity and leading the Pacers to a win.
Here are a few links of interest:
AP game report
Cliff Brunt recaps the Pacers win.
PACERS: Inside the Game: Pacers 130, Raptors 115
Bruno's Inside the Game report has all of the numbers, notes, quotes and highlights.
Pacers play loose to end losing skid at 3
Mike Wells reports on the Pacers winning a "feel-good game" and ending their losing streak.
Under Conner, Pacers snap Raptors' five-game streak
Mark Montieth offers up the game story for NBA.com.
Raptors lose game and Calderon with ankle injury
Doug Smith reports on the Raptors not only ending their 5-game winning streak but also losing guard Jose Calderon after he stepped on Jarrett Jack's foot and turned his ankle.
Sluggish Raptors can't keep pace
Erik Koreen reports on the Raptors struggles to keep up with the Pacers energy last night.
Smits' career a template for Hibbert
Bruno's latest Caught In The Web checks in with former Pacer, Rik Smits on the progress of Roy Hibbert. The two have uncanny similarities in their games. Hopefully Smits can spend a little time with Roy in the offseason sharing some of the things that helped the Dunkin' Dutchman refine his game.
Catching Up With A.J. Price
Ryan McNeil checked in with rookie A.J. Price when the Pacers were in Toronto.
The Pacers and the Four Factors
Jared Wade offers up a broader view of the four factors league wide so far this season which highlights the Pacers' offensive struggles.
Raptors Rapid Recap: Toronto 115 Indiana 130
Raptors HQ gives a rapid account of their loss to the Indiana Pacers
Pacers Notebook: Conner tweaks starting lineup as boss
Mike Wells reports on the Conner returning to a big starting lineup and Tyler Hansbrough seeking advice on his inner ear infection from a specialist in New York.
Paging Mr. Granger
Mike Wells is wondering if and when Danny Granger will ever find his 3-point stroke. Granger is just 13-54 (24%) from behind the arc in his last 10 games.