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Player Review: Lance Stephenson lit a fire under the Pacers

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The Lance-effect was real. The question now is if it’s sustainable.

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As trite as the word “swagger” has become, arguably no other term can better encapsulate what it was that Lance Stephenson brought to the Indiana Pacers.

“Lance is a little crazy,” Kevin Pritchard admitted on 1070 The Fan’s The Dan Dakich Show. “But, he brings a unique energy to our team, and he brought everybody up. He walked in the building and Paul (George) had a little bit more swagger. Jeff Teague had much more swagger when we had Lance.”

Still, as much as the Lance-effect on the Pacers was real, the Pacers-effect on Lance was real as well. What other explanation can there possibly be for how it was that he managed to effortlessly drain five of his first eight attempts from three (62.5%) in a Blue & Gold uniform after going 1-of-12 in New Orleans and Minnesota?

How did Lance Stephenson impress?

Skepticism be damned, Lance Stephenson was what the Indiana Pacers needed after all. Especially since his return ushered in two long-overdue rotation tweaks. In an effort to surround the prodigal point wing with shooters, Nate McMillan f-i-n-a-l-l-y moved Aaron Brooks off-ball and mostly called it quits on the double-plodder lineups.

Per NBA Wowy, Stephenson only played 15.1 percent of his total minutes with Lavoy Allen and Kevin Seraphin on the floor together. That mattered. Without two paint-bound bigs clogging the lane, Lance’s forceful driving game had space enough to forcefully attack the paint, find shooters on the perimeter, and unlock his bromance with Kevin Seraphin.

Over the last six games of the regular season, the Pacers outscored opponents by 25.5 points per 100 possessions with Stephenson running point alongside Brooks, Paul George, C.J. Miles, and Seraphin.

How did Lance Stephenson disappoint?

Unfortunately, the Cleveland Cavaliers did not consider five made three-pointers to be a large enough sample size to dissuade them from daring him to shoot. Here, even with C.J. Miles and Paul George acting as interchangeable forwards, Kevin Love’s ability to navigate his way through screens was only sparsely tested. Instead, Cleveland used him to play a sort of one-man zone against Stephenson.

To Lance’s credit he confidently knocked down a few of these shots and managed to get to the rim with a head of steam, but his well-purposed attempts to keep the defense honest had a tendency to slow the offense to a grind while he danced with the ball.

What’s next?

Until he can prove sustainability from 3-point range over more than 10 games, calls for him to be the starting point guard are probably premature. As the close to the season proved, molding small lineups around his playmaking and unbridled passion is what makes him dangerous.

“Lance with four shooters out there,” Pritchard explained. “He’s a tough cover....”

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