The Indiana Pacers have a tenuous grasp on the 8-seed right now, half a game ahead of the fun and feisty Miami Heat. Paul George is stepping into the superstar sneakers that mostly stayed fresh in their box for the past two seasons. He’s dueling with LeBron on national TV and calling out his teammates. It’s the kind of fire that propels a playoff-bound team. Kudos to PG13. However, if the Pacers do make it to the postseason, look to a different catalyst. Send your thank-yous to folk hero Lance Stephenson.
It has been six days since Larry Bird brought Lance back to his rightful home in the NBA universe, and though he’s just played one game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Lance has incited a fight with the Toronto Raptors, apologized for padding his stats even though he barely had stats to pad, pandered to the Pacers fans who gave him a raucous ovation, and provoked newfound foes on Snapchat. We may need a new efficiency metric specifically for this kind of production. Effective field goal percentage means nothing to this guy.
Lance is the ultimate tough guy, because he does not change. There is no nemesis too big or too small for Lance. Mixing it up with Lance is the only way in which LeBron James and Patrick Patterson are equals. Despite failed stints with the Hornets, Clippers, and Pelicans, Stephenson remains the same thrilling and maddening player, who will take stupid shots and sometimes drain a game winner. Had he been signed just a few days earlier, Stephenson would have been the exception to George’s rant in which he accused his teammates of lacking urgency, and maybe George would have never issued it at all. Stephenson instantly gives this milquetoast team a new, pugnacious identity.
The Pacers likely won’t make it past Round 1, if they make the playoffs at all — though Paul George looks scary right now — but the NBA is better with Stephenson in Indiana.