The Indiana Pacers’ Lance Stephenson showed flashes of his old self during Game 1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring 16 points off the bench in a hard-fought one-point loss. He carried that confidence with him into Tuesday’s Game 2 … but it proved to be somewhat premature.
Stephenson chipped in 13 points on 6-for-13 shooting to go with four assists, two steals and a block in 27 minutes in Game 2. But things unraveled a bit for him in the third quarter, as they did for the Pacers as a whole, with Cleveland outscoring Indiana 33-20 in the third on the way to a 117-111 win that put the Pacers in an 0-2 hole in the best-of-seven series.
Part of the problem was poise. After checking back in with just under five minutes left in the third quarter, Stephenson found himself having to guard Kevin Love in the post. He struggled with the assignment, committing two fouls and giving up a short jumper on three straight possessions.
“Lance got excited because he made a couple of shots, and talking stuff to the bench,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said after the game. “So when we went back at him, and Kevin was scoring the basketball and getting to the free-throw line, it got the crowd into it, got our bench into it. If they’re going to play small like that, Kevin should dominate.”
After his second foul of Love in a minute, a visibly frustrated Stephenson slammed the ball into the ground, prompting head coach Nate McMillan to tell him to “calm down” from the sidelines.
“That was my mistake,” Stephenson said of guarding Love, according to the Indianapolis Star. “I was supposed to front him and get help side and on the weak side behind me. I didn’t do it. It was my fault.”
Things got even rougher to end the quarter, as Kyrie Irving shook Stephenson up badly with a crossover and pull-up jumper:
Kyrie Irving making Lance dance ???? pic.twitter.com/IyKEbFmkrC
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) April 18, 2017
And drained a 3 right in Lance’s mug:
I think Kyrie has a date right after the game, doesn't want to be late pic.twitter.com/ho3VuMVdiP
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 18, 2017
And Lance’s 60-foot prayer of an answer went down just after the buzzer, meaning it didn’t count:
— NBA (@NBA) April 18, 2017
After the game, Pacers star Paul George took Stephenson to task for losing his composure during the Cavs’ third-quarter run.
“He’s got to learn to control himself. He’s got to learn to just be in the moment,” George said. “We all know that Lance is an emotional guy, and a lot of it is just his heart and his competitiveness […] But he’s just got to — he’s got to, you know, channel that, and put it toward making effort plays on the court and doing whatever he needs for us to succeed.”
Some people may be quick to scold George for throwing his teammates under the bus by commenting on Stephenson’s emotions after his remarks Saturday about believing that he, and not teammate C.J. Miles, should have put up the potential game-winning shot in the final seconds of Game 1. To some degree, though, the man has a point: he is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 30.5 points and seven assists per game against Cleveland, and the Pacers need to figure out how to better support him.
One way George thinks the Pacers can do that is by getting more production out of their big men in pick-and-roll situations.
“I thought in the third quarter, [the Cavaliers] double-teamed,” George said after the game. “They trapped. And we should have did a better job of, once we got it out in the pick-and-rolls, our bigs gotta make plays at that point.
“I’m looking for [the bigs] to try to pass out of those traps, and take advantage of the three-on-twos or the four-on-threes. That’s really what it comes down to. On all of those pick-and-rolls, I’m looking for them, because that’s how you play the game […] It’s the only way that it’s going to free me up on these pick-and-rolls, because they’re not going to want to get burned by that.
“It’s very obvious that [the Cavaliers] want the ball out of my hands, and they’re going to force other guys to beat them.”
McMillan and the Pacers will have until Thursday to make some changes to their playbook before they face the Cavs back in Indiana for Game 3.