By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
INDIANAPOLIS – For casual NBA fans who haven’t paid much attention to Indiana’s tightly wound shooting guard, these Eastern Conference finals might not provide a glimpse of Lance Stephenson in all his blazing glory.
Stephenson, a bundle of emotions good and bad most of the time, is trying to be on his best behavior against the Miami Heat. That means cooling it on the technical fouls and the trash talk, and reining in some of his on-court gyrations and expressions.
A less fun Lance? Absolutely. But also a less volatile Lance, a player less likely to give away points via free throws or put coach Frank Vogel in a rotation bind if he fouls out, gets tossed or just needs to be yanked to calm the heck down.
In Miami’s March 26 visit to Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season, Stephenson got two technical fouls and an ejection midway through the fourth quarter. He’s the guy who talked jokingly before this series about trying to wear out Dwyane Wade‘s sore knee, only to have it generate a minor controversy.
In fact, Stephenson is excitable enough that you sense the Heat almost count on him to spill over at some point, possibly goading him in hopes of making that happen.
Fortunately for Indiana, after multiple talks with teammates and coaches, the fourth-year guard is aware of it. He claims to have it under control.
“Uh, playing against the Heat, I’ve got to calm down my little antics,” Stephenson said Monday afternoon after Pacers practice. “So I decided I’m not gonna do none of that. I’m just going to stay poised and just play with my team.”
Like a lot of players, Stephenson believes that his emotions fuel his game. So might putting them on a leash stifle his play?
“I mean, when I do some dances or stuff and get the crowd involved, I actually play better,” he said. “But if it’s gonna help my teammates and it helps me stay in the game, I’m definitely not going to do that.”
Playing muzzled in Indiana’s past two games, however, hasn’t hurt Stephenson. Both in the opener against the Heat and in the Game 6 clincher against Washington, he had 17 points and eight assists, shooting a combined 16-of-25. The talks with Vogel, the reminders from fellow Pacers look to be paying off.
“He’s learned to be a professional,” Paul George said of Stephenson. “He’s just an emotional person. That’s what we need, though. We need a guy with that energy, that toughness.
“He gets out of hand sometimes, but we can live with most of it.”