Skip to main content
Original Issue

Jamaal Is On The Baall Even without shooting, Pacers point guard Jamaal Tinsley has shown he can beat the Heat

As the Lakers' drama snagged the playoff attention last week, a
key piece of role-playing was taking place in the East, where a
streetball wiz who didn't even finish high school was quietly
running one of the NBA's most disciplined offenses. Indiana
Pacers point guard Jamaal Tinsley is like a world-class pianist
who never learned to read music. He gets effective results--but
often in unconventional ways.

"He may have played as good a game as he's played for us all
year," said coach Rick Carlisle, shaking his head last Saturday
as he studied Tinsley's stats from Indiana's 91-80 win over the
Miami Heat in their Eastern Conference semifinal. After helping
Indiana take the opener 94-81 by burying 5 of 6 three-pointers
and scoring 17 points, Tinsley attempted only one shot and scored
only one point in Game 2. Still, he dominated play, handing out
nine assists without a turnover, making three steals and slowing
the tempo, helping to limit the Heat to a measly eight fast-break
points. (In Indiana's 94-87 loss at Miami in Game 3 on Monday
night, which cut the Pacers' lead in the series to 2-1, Tinsley
racked up 16 points and five assists.)

Such success was hard to envision during the season's first two
months, when the newly hired Carlisle, looking for a more
polished playmaker, sat Tinsley for all but four games while
veterans Kenny Anderson and Anthony Johnson led the Pacers to a
21-8 start. The demotion shocked the more talented Tinsley, 26,
who had led Indiana in assists for two straight years under
Carlisle's predecessor, Isiah Thomas. "I didn't think I had to
prove anything," says Tinsley. Yet he spent those relatively idle
weeks honing his jump shot and running on the treadmill without
complaint while studying Carlisle's principles: Play under
control, avoid mistakes and work the ball inside to Jermaine
O'Neal, Ron Artest and Al Harrington.

"I would never tell Rick who to play," says Pacers president
Larry Bird. "Once I asked him, 'Are you taking a look at Jamaal?'
And he said, 'Oh, I love Jamaal. He's the best.'"

When Anderson hurt his right calf in late December, then Johnson
strained his abdomen, Tinsley stepped in and proved that he'd
learned to do things his coach's way. "I'm more patient now,"
says Tinsley, who went 34-9 as a starter. "My first year I was
always trying for the big play. I remember Reggie Miller saying,
'Hit singles instead of the home run.'" Not only did Tinsley
produce an acceptable assists-to-turnover ratio of 2.8 this
season, but he also shot a career-high 41.4%. At 6'3" and 192
pounds--16 fewer than last season--he is in the best shape of his
career. "I'm the type of person who can handle adversity,"
Tinsley says. "Some people break down because of it, but it makes
me stronger."

Tinsley's biological father and stepfather died in a four-month
span when he was nine; four years later he moved out of his
mother's crowded New York City apartment and lived with friends
and in the streets for several years, once spending five nights
in jail for being in the company of an acquaintance who was
arrested for armed robbery. (Charges against Tinsley were
dropped.) Though he had rarely attended high school, Tinsley made
a life-changing decision and earned his GED while attending Mount
San Jacinto (Calif.) College. He played two years there, then
spent the next two at Iowa State before going 27th in the '01

Bird wouldn't be shocked to see Tinsley named to the All-Star
team in a couple of years. "He's one of those point guards you
always want to play with," Bird says. "He's a great distributor,
he pushes it when it needs to be pushed, and when he wants to
play defense, he can really get after it." With Tinsley
orchestrating the offense against the Heat, conventional
wisdom--and the Pacers--should prevail. --Ian Thomsen

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN BREAKTHROUGH An early-season benching taught Tinsley to temperhis play.