- Knicks vs. Pacers: Series Hub
INDIANAPOLIS – A year ago, Lance Stephenson was comic relief and the Indiana Pacers’ resident knucklehead. Twelve months later, he is as serious as a flagrant foul and the single biggest reason the Pacers eliminated the New York Knicks in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Last May, Stephenson was the Indiana deep reserve, all raw talent and immaturity, who got caught by the cameras making a choke sign when LeBron James missed free throws in Game 3 of the teams’ playoff series. James ignored him, in the moment and when asked about him later. But a couple of his Miami teammates weren’t so detached; Juwan Howard got into a verbal confrontation with Stephenson before Game 4 and backup big Dexter Pittman seemed to be on the floor late in Game 5 for the express purpose of flattening him (Pittman winked to the Heat bench after the hit across the young Pacers guard’s throat).
Now, it’s Stephenson doing the flattening. Not quite all growed up but making a mad dash in that direction, the 6-foot-5 kid from Brooklyn – from the same Lincoln High that produced the likes of Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair – did New York’s NBA team wrong. He grabbed the game at both ends – grabbed it by the throat, one might say – and scored nine points in the first quarter to ignite Indiana in a game it couldn’t squander, then nine more (in not quite seven minutes) in the fourth when it mattered most.
His 25 were a career playoff high but then, just about everything Stephenson does this postseason is a career high, given how unused he was previously. Twice in the first half, Stephenson snagged rebounds and raced downcourt, going end to end through New York’s defense for buckets.
In the fourth, he picked off a pass by Carmelo Anthony and finished with a three-point play that broke a 92-92 tie. Next time down, he drew Tyson Chandler‘s sixth personal foul and hit two free throws. After an Anthony jumper made it 99-94, Stephenson backed his way first through J.R. Smith, then through Anthony for another layup. It wasn’t over, except that it was.
“Unbelievable,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s got no playoff experience whatsoever, but he’s got some of the best basketball instincts I’ve ever been around. There’s an old phrase – he’s a gamer.
“He’s not always going to look good. He’s not always going to be in the right spots defensively. … But you put him in a situation like this – Game 6, closeout game – the kid’s got a lot of guts and great basketball instincts.” (more…)