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‘Don’t eff with the game’: How Nate McMillan’s pet peeve had a noticeable effect on the Pacers’ culture

...Any why sharing what irks him should be an annual tradition.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight at around five o’clock, away from the hustle and bustle of Media Day, the Pacers are going to sit down together for a meal, where Nate McMillan says he will address the team. Welcome and introductions will take place. Goals will be discussed. A road map for how to approach the season will be laid out, and then, as all good dinner conversations go, pet peeves will be aired.

Among them: “Don’t eff with the game.”

“At any time,” McMillan explained. “whether we are practicing or playing the game. (Show) a respect for the game, the organization, our staff, our fan base. Those are things it is hard for me to deal with when we are not doing what we are supposed to do.”

That much was evident last season.

Take for instance the time when the Phoenix Suns cut a 32-point lead down to 18 with 3:32 left to play and he opted to go back with some of the starters in a laugher because he felt like the players he was attempting to get minutes weren’t continuing to play hard.

“Whether you’re up 20 or down 20, you play the game the right way,” McMillan said that night of his message to the team after they surrendered a 37-point fourth-quarter after controlling the game for 36 minutes.

While it’s debatable if pressing home that point to the end of the bench was worth risking a potential injury to a key player, the emphasis placed on drilling such a mindset was visible from the onset of the season and continued to permeate throughout.

Rewind the tape from that same game to the end of the third quarter and make note of the score when Victor Oladipo exploded from a relaxed stance in the deep corner to avoid giving up a pick six to Greg Monroe.

Or how about when victory was all but at hand against the Sixers and Domantas Sabonis, towering just south of 7-feet in height, dropped to the court and freaking army crawled to maintain possession.

Then there was the Sacramento Kings game when the Pacers had a 23-point lead and Thaddeus Young’s response to Darren Collison losing the ball off of his foot was to book it to the other end of the court and poke the ball out from behind Willie Cauley-Stein.

In each instance, the Pacers were the aggressors when they just as easily could’ve been complacent, but the table is set for a fresh season with new dinner guests.

“Last year, we’ve flipped the page on that,” McMillan said. “It’s over. It’s done. We have to create another identity. It’s a different group and it’s a different year... We want to continue to build and grow our culture.”

Voicing his pet peeve is a good place to start or, rather, pick back up.