His teammates, at least the ones who were part of the playing rotation, were in the shower or in various stages of undress when Kyle O’Quinn finally reached the Pacers’ locker room. He was sweating and breathing heavily as ice bags were taped to his knees, finally ready to talk with the media.
He had just introduced himself to his new fan base on Saturday night with his first shot at extended playing time, scoring 16 points (14 in the fourth quarter) and grabbing eight rebounds in a relief role that came his way because Domantas Sabonis sat out with a bruised knee suffered in Friday’s loss in Milwaukee.
He stopped for an oncourt postgame interview, joined his teammates in the locker room for some postgame words from coach Nate McMillan, and then guess what he did next.
He walked through the underground tunnel to the practice courts at St. Vincent Center and ran sprints. Players who don’t get into a game or don’t play many minutes routinely work out after games, but not veterans who go 18 1/2 minutes.
Why the extra credit report, Kyle?
“You never know what’s going to happen in the next game, you know?” he said.
The next game, Monday in Minneapolis, might have O’Quinn back on the bench if Sabonis returns. It’s difficult enough for McMillan to find minutes for both Myles Turner and Sabonis. Adding a third capable center to the mix is nearly impossible other than when an injury or a lopsided score intervenes. So O’Quinn, who had played a total of eight garbage time minutes in the first two games, runs sprints to stay in shape.
“My body felt good,” he said of the sudden workload. “I’ve been with the young guys getting the extra work in. This is a working organization, and it shows. I just appreciate Coach going with me. He could have gone another direction, of course.”
Not really, not logically anyway. Sabonis’ injury – he was in the locker room afterward, all smiles and no limp – enabled Turner to play another four to six minutes and he responded with 14 points and eight rebounds. O’Quinn got most of the rest, aside from the few Ike Anigbogu got to close out the 132-112 victory over Brooklyn at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
O’Quinn’s versatility was in full bloom in this game, which removed the stench of Friday’s 17-point loss in Milwaukee. He grabbed five offensive rebounds, two of them off his own misses. He stepped out and hit an 18-footer and a 20-footer. He blocked two shots, kept the ball alive a few other times, and got a steal while running back on defense.
He also kept up the school spirit, making the rounds to slap hands with each of the players standing on the court waiting for play to resume following a timeout.
What O’Quinn really enjoys doing, though, what he sold Pacers president of basketball operation Kevin Pritchard and others on when the broke bread over the summer, is setting screens. He plants himself and doesn’t shy from contact.
“He hit me with a few in training camp,” Victor Oladipo said. “I had to remind him we’re on the same team about a hundred times.”
It feels different when the screens are for you, though. O’Quinn freed Oladipo for a 3-pointer with 6:37 left in the game, by which time the outcome was secured. Barely more than a minute later, Oladipo paid him back with a feed for a layup.
“That’s how the game works,” Oladipo said.
O’Quinn might be new to the Pacers, but he’s not new to all of the Pacers. He played with Oladipo during Oladipo’s first two seasons in Orlando. He played with Doug McDermott most of last season in New York, before McDermott was traded to Dallas.
“He’s more than just a teammate to me,” said Oladipo, who led the Pacers with 25 points. “It’s great to see your brother play well.”
“He’s one of my favorite teammates I’ve played with,” added McDermott, who hit 4-of-5 3-pointers on his way to 12 points.
O’Quinn is a former second-round draft pick, 28 years old and beginning his seventh NBA season. He knows by now he’s never going to be any team’s star, but can always be a teammate’s favorite teammate by going about his job a certain way. And doing it consistently.
“Being dependable,” he said. “That’s one of the things I like to hold myself accountable for. Coach doesn’t put the pressure on me that I gotta go six-for-six from the 3-point line. That’s the beauty of my job. I like to step in where my help is needed.
“Of course I’m comfortable playing in the offense, DHO and setting screens. But the biggest thing is being ready and being accountable to being ready. I think the guys appreciate that and I appreciate them.”
“DHO” is dribble-handoff, something a lot of centers have to do these days out on the perimeter to help free teammates for open shots. O’Quinn doesn’t mind that, either. It’s easier than setting a screen because there’s usually less contact on a DHO. Neither one is a problem, though. Any player willing to run sprints after playing well for 18 1/2 minutes in a game isn’t going to mind a little dirty work here and there.
“Kyle’s just a professional,” McDermott said. “We’ve always had a good connection out there. He brings energy. You’re going to feel him out on the floor, whether he scores zero points or 15 points.
“He’ll always be ready. That’s what Kyle does.”