Cole’s defense may force Stephenson’s adjustment in Game 3

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Heat coach Erik Spolestra looks ahead to Game 3 of the East finals

The guy nicknamed “Born Ready” needs to get ready all over again. Or, sticking with his tattooed terminology, Lance Stephenson needs to be reborn for Game 3 of the Indiana Pacers-Miami Heat Eastern Conference finals Saturday night (8:30 ET, ESPN).

With the series shifting to Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena for the next two in the best-of-seven series, Stephenson faces all the usual adjustments to playing on the road and trying to repeat his clutch performance in Game 2, when he led Indiana with 25 points and carried the Pacers for long stretches. But he’ll have another adjustment to cope with in the person of Heat reserve guard Norris Cole.

Cole was the Heat sub entrusted with pestering Stephenson defensively in the fourth quarter Tuesday and he wasn’t just effective; he was Tony Allen-on-Kevin Durant effective. After Stephenson turned Bankers Life Fieldhouse into his personal playground over the first three quarters, Cole went back into the game and onto Stephenson, a LeBron James suggestion.

It was an idea, triggered by Cole’s work in eight second-quarter minutes, whose time truly had come. Stephenson got knocked out of rhythm, his typically high dribble made vulnerable by the shorter Cole’s low base, grabby hands and foot speed. The Pacers shooting guard’s game turned noticeably passive and he no longer could cover for the misfirings of David West (0-for-4) and Paul George (1-for-2).

“Dribble penetration,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gave as the single biggest challenge posed by Stephenson. “He was putting pressure on the entire defense. Norris is one of our better pick-and-roll defenders.”

Miami has versatility that way. Once Cole demonstrated he was capable of bothering Stephenson, Dwyane Wade and James were able to shift their defensive focus to George and Pacers point guard George Hill, respectively. It wasn’t George’s night anyway – from his 1-of-11 first half to the concussion he suffered midway through the final quarter – and Hill often doesn’t assert himself for long stretches — even when he’s shadowed by a lesser defender.

That freed up the Heat’s Big 2 to score 22 of their team’s 25 points – Cole’s 3-pointer the lone exception – while the Pacers shot 7-of-19 for 20 points.

The onus now is on Stephenson, Indiana coach Frank Vogel and the rest of their crew to adjust to Cole’s new-found role. They need Stephenson’s points and his other stats, but they also need Lance being Lance. He can be a Tasmanian devil on the court, with fits of good and bad, but he has an energy and unbridled nature that gooses Indiana’s otherwise sober, dispassionate lineup of veterans.

Stephenson said after Game 2 that he believes in his teammates and fact is, they believe in him — or at least his abilities — too. None of them has the athleticism or can blow by an opponent or can create their own shot the way Stephenson can. None of them is the powder keg, with sparks flying dangerously close, that Stephenson is.

That, frankly, is what’s going to make his summer roll-out in free agency so tricky. Back when the Pacers were the first-half darlings of the NBA and Stephenson was best known as a snubbed All-Star and Most Improved candidate, the 23 year old figured to cash in big as an unrestricted choice at shooting guard. When Indiana swooned in March and April, however, Stephenson was in the middle of it – Roy Hibbert dropped the “selfish” word in his direction – and looked to be costing himself serious bucks (relatively, since he was making $1 million in 2013-14) .

With his Game 3 performance, which was nearly eclipsed by the outcome, Stephenson again could perk up interest and offers from teams desperate for scoring. If, that is, he’s able to handle this latest wrinkle of Cole as Lance thwarter.

Asked specifically about the job Cole did on him, Stephenson didn’t even acknowledge the Miami backup. “I felt like I was involved,” he said. “I come off the pick-and-roll, I hit D.West, like I normally do. … Just got to keep playing basketball.”

Only for four quarters this time, and sharper, against a Cole-blooded defender. Or whomever Miami throws at him next.

13 Comments

  1. sabotage says:

    I don’t think all starting 5 of Indiana will gets double digit points in Miami land!.. They need their crowd to build up their confidence, that’s why they goaled for getting the game 7 at their home court. Lance will chicken out and will not be the same Lance you saw in games 1 and 2. He is not an All Star.. He is just a good player.

    • tweeze says:

      he should have been an all star he led the league in tripple doubles and thats a very hard stat to get in the nba now

  2. TMac says:

    @ LIZ…….I’m going to need for you to explain what made that win for the Heat lucky…..

  3. okc2014 says:

    The Miami Heat are not playing overall as a championship this regular season and this playoff season. Maybe they are bored, maybe they haven’t been challenged yet. The Leastern Conference is probably the first time yet this season we have seen any type of competition……I want Indiana Pacers for the win and I see no reason why they can’t do it. If they don’t, Lance Stephens, although I still say he’s a clown, deserves to play on another team where he can start. Vogel is questionable for next year and quite possibly the team could be dismantled. I don’t understand. They have the pieces (players) to pull this off but the chemistry is way off. This is not the Spurs.

  4. LIZ says:

    I really dont know why people can not be truthful for once, Miami heats were lucky to win game 2. they struggled thru the whole game but no one is saying that, all I read is how Wade and lebron score last 15 points in the last mins of the game. In my opinion, The heats did not play like champions in either games, in fact, a little fear had set in ( If anyone paid attention to the body language of those on the bench, even the coach) towards the end of the 4th quater. So i think the chances of the heats wining this series is slim as well as the Pacers, as a matter of fact, Pacers might win it if this series goes to 7, which I think it will. Now If PG does not play the next 2 games, then the heats can win the series

    • Kunjaymaster says:

      Lucky? I don’t know your definition of lucky but Wade and Lebron scoring 22 of 25 points in the 4th quarter while shutting down the Pacer’s offense is not luck to me. Luck is hitting a last second shot to win the game. If you want to argue that this is a very even series sure, but you just lost in your home after fighting all year to play game 7 there, so it’s all on the Heat now.

    • iamironman says:

      Lucky,huh? LBJ and DWade imposing their will in the 4th is lucky? Smh

  5. JimD54 says:

    I am a Pacer fan, but the Pacers have proved to be too inconsistent to beat any elite team in a playoff series, simple truth is that neither Hibbert nor George are ready for the big time, it’s a shame, George was stinking up the place even before Wade took him out, and Hibbert, I don’t know what’s wrong with him, Bird might need to go back to the drawing board with this bunch…

    • ko0kiE says:

      if they hadn’t hibbert it would be a dunk and layup festival… believe me they need him…but i think their best player is david west.. he brought the toughness back to indiana and he does so much..even showed during the playoffs that he still can take over games… I’m impressed. not comment about paul george..

  6. Matthew says:

    Funniest thing is both teams had an experiment with has been centres that failed haha. No one is mentioning it though.

  7. john says:

    this series will be even tougher for indiana if bosh is not struggling.. Still miami will win this even with a sub par effort from bosh, Wade and lebron is too much to handle for any team if they score at will

  8. jdub455 says:

    not only did norris did it in the defensive end, but he made those impt 3pt shots… tough kid… the heat has this series… it is cb4 hu shld step up and force hibbert to respect him…

    • john says:

      Miami will look to win games 3 and 4. Series will end in game 6. Miami’s chemistry is still too much for the young and inconsistent pacers. They should have won game 2 as that was the key game for this series. Miami will be tougher this time as wade is playing like the vintage wade again that we all know.