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Keem Christmas provides unexpected boost in win - Feb 26, 2017


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DAVID EDOLE
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Rakeem
Christmas
IndyStar reporter Nate Taylor

Rakeem Christmas (206-F-91, college: Syracuse) just needed an opportunity to show his skillset. That was the message Christmas' teammates delivered to him throughout the Indiana Pacers' season.

Christmas, a seldom-used second-year player, was notified by coach Nate McMillan of his first opportunity to contribute to the team just an hour before the Pacers' game Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies. In his most significant playing time of his career, Christmas performed well enough that he excited his teammates, energized the fans inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse and had an impact in the Pacers' 102-92 victory.

In 14 minutes, Christmas produced the best performance of his young career. He finished with four points, a career-high five rebounds and one block.

'Coach just told me to come in the game and do what I do in trying to rebound, be physical and just set screens,' Christmas said. 'That's what I did and that boosted everyone confidence.'

McMillan inserted Christmas into the game midway through the first quarter. After a few plays, Christmas scored on a one-handed dunk after setting a screen before cutting to the basket. Several Pacers celebrated by jumping out of their seats on the bench after the Christmas' highlight.

Christmas was inserted into McMillan's rotation after Al Jefferson, the veteran backup center, missed his first game of the season with what the team described as dental pain. The Pacers announced the news of Jefferson's absence an hour before tipoff. Jefferson, who was a full participant in the team's practice Thursday, didn't sit with his teammates on the bench during Friday's game. His status for Saturday's game against the Miami Heat is unknown.

Inside the Pacers locker room, several of Christmas' teammates praised him for his energy on offense and his tenacity on defense.

'I'm really proud of Rakeem being called up and he sparked us and played huge minutes,' Paul George said. 'It's a tough task playing against Zack (Randolph) and Marc (Gasol), but he did an unbelievable job. I thought he could have helped us a lot earlier. I'm very happy for him. He stuck with it, they gave him an opportunity and he shined.'

Before Friday, Christmas spent the season either buried on McMillan's depth chart of frontcourt players or with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the Pacers' NBA Development League affiliate. In his brief career, Christmas has been assigned and recalled from the Mad Ants eight times, which leads all players since the Pacers purchased the ownership of the Fort Wayne team last season.

'I can't even recall, man,' Christmas said when he asked how many timed he drove to Fort Wayne. 'It's been a lot.'

After Christmas's promising performance, McMillan said it's possible he could rely more on his young power forward in the Pacers' final 24 games of the regular season.

'We've been thinking about him and tonight provided an opportunity for him to play with Al being out,' McMillan said. 'We talked to Rakeem and told him to be ready. He's been doing a good job in practice of playing that toss game as we call it of rolling to the basket, defending the basket, rebounding the ball. I thought he came out and did a solid job.'

Christmas emphasized that he understands his role, no matter how limited it might be, when he is on the court.

'I don't need the ball,' he said. 'I just have to set screens for everybody and get them open and just rebound. That's what Nate's been asking for lately and that's what I'm trying to do. All the little things matter on this team and I'm trying to do all the little dirty work. My teammates been telling me the whole season my time would come. My time did come tonight. I just went out there, played my game and had fun with everyone.'   




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