INDIANAPOLIS – Lance Stephenson made a, er, spectacle of himself in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday, cavorting against and annoying the Miami Heat with a performance that was one part Metta World Peace, one part J.R. Smith and, apparently, one part baseball slugger Manny (Being Manny) Ramirez.
“Lance being Lance” is how one Miami player after another characterized the Indiana guard’s antics at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. His repertoire of annoyances ranged from exaggerated and pestering contact with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to sticking his beak into a sideline huddle between Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and guards Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers.
Then there was the coup de grace, blowing into James’ ear while the two waited for action to resume at one point.
Asked later if he ever had thought about blowing in someone’s ear as a defensive tactic, James responded: “Probably my wife. I blew in my wife’s ear before. That was definitely a defensive tactic.”
Generally, the Heat reacted with a collective shrug. They’re the two-time defending champions. Stephenson is a 6-year-old, or at least sometimes acts like it.
“I’m as annoying as the next guy, but even for me there are lines,” Heat forward Shane Battier said.
The huddle-busting? Stephenson pushed his mug right next to Spoelstra as he advised his point guards during one play stoppage. Neither the coach nor the players challenged him, but a shove or an exchange of words would have been a natural reaction.
“What can you do? You can’t throw a guy out of the huddle,” Battier said. “I don’t know what the rules are.”
Anything like that go on with the Heat? Battler said he’ll sometimes try to steal a glance at the other coach’s whiteboard. “Out of a timeout, I’ll try to pick out what they’re going to run,” the veteran said. “But I’m not going to walk through the huddle. Different strokes for different folks.”
Stephenson had generated buzz previously in the ECF. Before the series began, his throwaway remark about running around enough to make Wade’s knee ache got portrayed by some media types as disrespectful or antagonistic. Then he got caught up in a trash-talking controversy with James, contending that he had exposed a “sign of weakness” in the Heat superstar when James actually yapped back at him briefly.
That’s probably why James took no bait Wednesday.
“Lance is Lance,” he said. “He’s going to do what he needs to do to help his team win. As to the leaders of our team, we’re going to do what it takes to help our team win.”
Said Pacers forward Paul George: “It’s Lance being Lance. He’s been special for us, and whether he’s scoring the ball, making plays, causing confrontation, Lance is special and there’s a reason why we gain an edge and some opportunities during games. A lot of it comes from Lance.
“So we need that. He’s always got to make sure he’s monitoring it, but I didn’t think nothing was out of the spirit of the game.”
Even the sweet nothings blown into James’ ear?
Said George: “I hope his breath wasn’t too bad for LeBron.”