The Indiana Pacers lost the season opener to the Washington Wizards by a final score of 114-107 but the loss doesn’t mean there were no positives to takeaway from the start of the 2022-23 season.
In fact, in the same spirit of the latest Locked On Pacers episode, it’s a great time for overreacting. And in this season of no expectations, there’s no reason to not think brightly about at least few pieces of the Pacers future.
New pod! @TEastNBA is joined by ex-host Adam Friedman to overreact to the Pacers opening night loss to the Wizards:
-Turner's sudden injury -Mathurin and Haliburton shine -Big men struggles -Bench impact -Balancing shot totals
Myles Turner is not interested in an extension with the Indiana Pacers according to Bob Kravitz of The Athletic, who appeared on the podcast Setting the Pace.
“They have every reason to believe that Myles Turner is not going to sign an extension to stay here,” Kravitz said on Setting the Pace. “… It’s not me guessing here. Myles has no interest in staying in Indianapolis.”
Now, Turner has come out on Twitter to call “cap” at least on the second half of that statement (translation: saying that he is not interested in staying with the Pacers is false).
The Indiana Pacers are rebuilding. While doing so openly and without shame by accumulating draft picks and pursuing young talent, the foundation of it all is Tyrese Haliburton and everything they’ve done this off-season has giving their point guard every opportunity to make a leap in mind.
The first step for the Pacers front office was to move Malcolm Brogdon who didn’t fit a rebuilding timeline and limited Haliburton’s impact when they shared the floor last season. It was only eight games, but in over 200 minutes the Pacers had a net rating of -16.3 with both guards playing together and Haliburton’s usage rate dropped to just 16.1% which was far below his 20.5% rate in his Pacers minutes without Brogdon.
In clutch moments, Brogdon was far too likely to be handling the bulk of playmaking duties instead of the more dynamic threat in the Pacers newcomer. Moving the veteran leaves no doubt about who should be running the offense and Haliburton, who can be deferential to a fault, knows his team will be relying on him more than ever next season.
In case this is your first time here or you forgot because it’s been years since I’ve put one of these out, here’s the concept of This Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: I find an interesting picture from the history of the Indiana Pacers whether from their ABA glory or the more modern era and then take the cliché literally and write at least 1,000 words inspired by the photo.
In the past in this column, I’ve covered the five stages grief of Knicks fans captured in a single moment against Reggie Miller, that game the Pacers played with only six active players the day after the infamous brawl, and a few other things. You can see all the past columns here. Let the word count begin:
Today, we talk about Pacers legend Danny Granger and the iconic picture—taken by Robert Duyos of the Sun Sentinel—of him towering over LeBron James like he’s Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston.
The Indiana Pacers are 9-16. The 7th-worst record in the NBA. They are on their third head coach in three seasons and out of excuses.
“We can’t be an organization or a team that accepts mediocrity,” Myles Turner said after the latest embarrassing loss for the Pacers who fell to the Miami Heat without both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. “That’s what we’ve been playing like. We got to up the ante, somehow someway … we have to find a way to fucking win.”
Do you like the look of the current Pacers roster? Because the majority of this team could be in Indiana for awhile after Kevin Pritchard and the front office agreed to an extension with Domantas Sabonis less than two hours before today’s deadline.
Domantas Sabonis: “Theres not really much to talk about. I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now. They know how I feel about that. There’s not much more to say. I’ll let my agents do the rest of it, we’ll see what happens”
Bobby Marks of ESPN had reported that Myles Turner extension amount of $72 million was seen as a “non-starter” by Sabonis’s agent, so it seemed he was looking for much more than the terms that ended up being agreed upon.
Sabonis’s contract extension is for four years and $74.9 million according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, just a shade larger than Turner’s deal signed last year at about this same time. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that with bonuses the deal can reach up to $85 million. This amount won’t start until next season as he plays out the last season of his rookie contract in 2019-20.
The Indiana Pacers have until Monday to sign Domantas Sabonis to an extension, but the two parties appear unlikely to agree to terms before that deadline according to multiple media reports.
The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported that they are far apart to the point that the Pacers “have engaged in active trade talks with several teams this week.” While Amick notes that there is no lack of interest in the young center, his sources say that the Pacers asking price remains too high.
The IndyStar’s J. Michael confirmed that an extension is not imminent at the moment and said he “wouldn’t be surprised by anything as the deadline nears.”
Regarding Sabonis as of today, nothing doing in terms of an extension, I’m told. It’s quiet and based on the skepticism of him starting at the 4…. wouldn’t be surprised by anything as the deadline nears #Pacers
Based on all the reporting, here is some speculation on what’s going on. I repeat this is just speculation and is only my best guess for the entire situation:
When the Pacers realized that they were probably not going to reach an agreement with Sabonis, they started to check what the trade market would be for him.
This doesn’t mean that they are necessarily looking to trade him right now (unless they got a huge offer they couldn’t pass up which would line up with their rumored “high” asking price) but perhaps it is more of a situation where the Pacers are just seeing what they could possibly get in a deal and what teams would be interested down the line if Kevin Pritchard and company decided to go that direction in the future. In other words, it’s just due diligence. Continue reading Rumors: Thoughts on the Domantas Sabonis trade talk→
The Indiana Pacers have had plenty of press conferences lately, but should we believe everything that’s been said?
Today, we’re not here to call anyone liars, but it’s easy to forget there are always public relations elements to running a basketball organization like the Indiana Pacers.
Sometimes, you’ve got to massage the message when you’re talking about things. Sometimes it may sound overly optimistic, but that doesn’t make it a lie. Just perhaps means a difference of opinion — a glass-half-full vs half-empty sort of situation.
We’ll call out lies if we see them, but in general basketball teams don’t need to lie as much as they need to handle the egos of situations to make sure someone isn’t pissed off for no reason — unless you’re in the Larry Bird school of public relations.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers’ more recent statements and decided just how truthful they are, and how much is simply public relations speak.
The Indiana Pacers will look very different than its last iteration when the new season starts after making some major moves on the first night of free agency. Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb are arriving and Bojan Bogdanovic and Thad Young are departing.
When Kevin Pritchard took over for Larry Bird as President of Basketball Operations, he immediately set out to have a lot of flexibility in the deals that he signed and the roster he constructed after completing the trade for Victor Oladipo. Darren Collison and Bogdanovic both got two-year deals with partial guarantees for the second season to give the Pacers plenty of options. Cory Joseph was acquired with just two years on his deal.
Even while signing short-term contracts, a fantastic culture was created behind their 3T mantra of toughness, togetherness and trust as well as the sheer positivity of Victor Oladipo permeating through the entire franchise. The chemistry of the group was the best they’ve had in recent memory.
They could have tried to cash in on the flexibility to an extent last off-season by letting Darren Collison, Bogdanovic go with their small partial guarantees but Pritchard remained patient waiting for the right opportunity and kept the overachieving team together one more season while still keeping the books relatively clean for the next off-season with short deals (Tyreke Evans and Kyle O’Quinn for one year, no new deal for Young who opted into his player option).
All of it led to this summer with Indiana having more cap space than they’ve likely ever had that could be used to sign free agents or make trades with teams looking for cap space. For Pritchard, this period could end up defining his tenure with the Paces as much as the Oladipo/Paul George swap for better or for worse. The big questions were what would he be able to do with the large amount of available money for a team that hasn’t had much success in attracting free agents over the course of its existence and whether that flexibility that he worked hard to maintain lead to anything at all.
It’s hard to imagine a better scenario coming to fruition than what transpired last night (at least one that’s realistic) in what was a whirlwind in the first 45 minutes of free agency.
The Indiana Pacers season is over after being swept for the second time in three years during Nate McMillan’s tenure as head coach. Should they start searching for a replacement to get them deeper into the postseason?
If you only look at the team’s overall performance this season, it’s hard to see why the Pacers would want to move on at this current moment. Victor Oladipo missed 46 games and the Pacers impressively matched their win total from the previous season at 48. That’s a huge accomplishment. They’ve exceeded all reasonable expectations in each of the last two years and he’ll deservedly get a few votes for Coach of the Year this season because of that.
Indiana had the third-best defensive rating in the league and the team gave maximum effort every game, never giving up no matter the circumstance. McMillan’s disciplined approach clearly has had its effect on this group, and the players have bought into the culture of the 3Ts (Toughness, Togetherness, Trust) and have praised him at various times in recent memory. Continue reading Should the Pacers fire Nate McMillan?→
INDIANAPOLIS–The Pacers have looked like they’ve been out of energy for weeks.
Tonight, as they faced a Brooklyn Nets team that was trying to clinch a playoff spot, it showed enough for Pacers head coach Nate McMillan to speak candidly about it after the game.
“We’re talking about we want to play,” said McMillan, “but I may have to make some decisions for some guys [to rest]. Because our motor is very low right now, that effort that we saw at the start of the game. We can’t start like that.”
Dan Burke says the #Pacers need to clean up the defense in the second half: "I don't see the old Pacers D right now… We got to scrap a little better, fight a little better for those rebounds." pic.twitter.com/f4GupQOdQC
McMillan highlighted the 12 offensive rebounds in the first half as a sign that the Pacers had no fight in this one, and while he doesn’t think it’s a lack of effort, he did admit that perhaps the team has hit a wall.
“Guys have given extra since Victor’s been out. We’ve had to lift and probably ask for a little bit more from this group since we lost a key player like that,” said McMillan. “… We’ve squeezed our guys a lot to get to this point. Is there anything left? I think so.”
McMillan said they will have the day off tomorrow and will be in talks with everyone to see what they need to do in terms of rest to be ready for the playoffs next week. The Pacers are just one win shy of their 48 wins from last year while Oladipo has missed over half the season. It’s an impressive feat but the team has been running on fumes.
The Pacers have struggled with their tough schedule since the All-Star break, seemingly playing a team fighting for something in the playoffs every night. They’ve gone 7-14 since February 25th and just 3-9 since March 16th.
“If we hit a wall or run out of gas, there’s nothing we can really do about that but try to rest as much as possible and continue to go out there and play,” said Thad Young. “That happens when your star player goes down. You have to give a little bit more. You have to elevate your game. It’s a process. … The biggest thing is just to continue to play, stay the course and making sure we’re there on the defensive side.”
Young was very focused on the poor defensive effort from the Pacers tonight, mentioning the many lapses on that end with backdoor cuts, letting guys blow by them, not smashing down on rebounds.
“Defense is what wins games for us and we haven’t been playing very good defense,” Young said. “… That’s not what we do as a team, we keep guys in front of us, we play physical on the defensive end and we make teams work for each and every bucket. That’s what we haven’t been doing.”
Young suggested the team going back to the basics and doing “high-school” drills like closeouts and putting guys in forced help positions.
Domantas Sabonis, who had his 30th double double of the season with 17 points and 12 rebounds, wasn’t a fan of the idea of taking games off or resting games but even he noted that the team has lacked energy.
Domas Sabonis doesn’t like the idea of taking games off but also notes that the team is lacking energy. pic.twitter.com/M8B15RxGIp
“I think it’s the energy,” Sabonis said of what needs corrected before the playoffs. “If we don’t have energy, we can’t guard. Everyone’s thinking ‘Oh, he’s going to help me out, he’s going to help me out,’ but we just got to stick together. The main thing is not falling apart.”
The Pacers have one week before the playoffs begin to recharge and find the energy necessary to pull off the upset against the Celtics. They’re now officially locked into the 5th seed.
“I’m very confident in our group that we’re gonna do well,” said Darren Collison, who made his return to the lineup by making just 2 of his 12 shot attempts. “I think we match up well with them; we’ve been playing them well all year long. I’m not just looking at the last game. I think when we play our best, we can beat any team in the East and I’m very confident about that.”
For the Pacers to be at their best, they made need to take this week and rest.
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Myles Turner has shown some things on the offensive end of the floor over these last two games that he hasn’t in the first three years of his career. The Indiana Pacers just lost their superstar and they need someone to step up.
Turner looks like he can help fill some of that Oladipo-sized void on offense. Now he just needs the ball with some consistency.
In the first half against the Grizzlies, Turner only had three shot attempts. After playing well in the third quarter with 7 points on 3-of-5 shooting and doing his DPOY-candidate thing on the defensive end, he didn’t come back into the game until four minutes were left in the fourth quarter and didn’t attempt another shot until less than one minute was left. This kind of thing just shouldn’t happen as often as it does with a player like Turner.
You know it had to be done. Samurai Myles & Ponytail Myles shirts available now (options starting at $15):
The lack of consistency in touches for Turner has long been an issue for the Pacers. While his stats may say that his development has been stagnant during his career, it feels more true that it’s his role that hasn’t evolved along with him. Especially when you see him make some of the moves he’s made recently.
Myles Turner waving off DC to do this was the best thing that’ll happen tonight.
Turner waves off Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic to take that last possession ISO of the half and makes a gorgeous hesitation move to blow by the defender and get the dunk. How many centers are making that move? Earlier in the half, he beat Kevin Durant in a one-on-one situation with a pump fake and nailed the shot. You have to find more ways to get a guy like this frequent touches with chances to score.
With no Oladipo, there’s no reason for him to not be involved more often than he currently is. His usage percentage has dropped from 22% in December to 16% in January before the game against the Warriors. He’s taking three less shot attempts per game than he did in the previous month. That trend can’t continue.
Turner, to his credit, is starting to take things into his own hands at times. He’s been aggressive with driving the ball from the perimeter way more in the last two games than he ever has been, especially when it’s been awhile since he’s taken a shot. This was his first shot attempt since four minutes were left in the first quarter against Memphis.
We're seeing Myles Turner attack more often in these last two with drives from the perimeter and it is good. pic.twitter.com/nEDKKBI6Mh
Maybe this is what he needed to do all along, but it’s hard to put the lack of purposeful involvement on Turner, when he was once told he needed to “distribute more” after having the best month of his young career in January 2017 when he averaged 17.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
The purpose of that from Indiana Pacers head coach Nate McMillan at the time was to encourage Turner to make the extra pass, instead of shooting it at every opportunity. While Turner has made many strides as a passer since then, it feels like the pendulum never swung back to Turner being a centerpiece for the Pacers offense. All of these passes in last two games are plays that he likely doesn’t make during his rookie season.
A few Myles Turner assists in last 2: 1) Finds an open DC and sets a screen to prevent a closeout 2) Reads the help on a short roll to find wide open Evans 3) Starts to make a move before making a nice bounce pass to Thad under basket pic.twitter.com/TVnjdPWCWW
Two of these passes come after he starts to try and create for himself. Giving him the freedom to create more often may allow him to be a better playmaker for others at times as well.
Turner’s starting to make moves off the dribble that are insane for a big man. The amount of space this crossover creates should have McMillan drooling over his young stud. His defender almost falls over on this play!
The #Pacers need to make a concerted effort to involve Turner more on offense because he is so much more talented than his role would suggest. Watch how much space he is able to create on this pull-up, despite the miss. pic.twitter.com/vanxex8OIU
It’s always felt like he has a shorter leash than others when it comes to shot selection though this seems to be getting better.
The Pacers are starting to embrace his 3-point shot more and more of late which is good to see. Turner took seven from distance against the Grizzlies and finished by making his last three attempts after missing his first four. The fact that he kept shooting them despite the slow start is huge.
Myles Turner needs to average at least 15 shots a game the rest of the year. That top of the key jumper should be happening constantly, not twice a half at best. If there is any silver lining to all this, it will be him finally becoming aggressive.
After starting the year off slowly as a 3-point shooter making just seven of his first 31 attempts, he’s made 30 of 63 long-range shots since December (47.6%).
Turner was one of few bright spots in the blowout loss to the Warriors. He was one of only a few players that looked like they belonged on the floor competing against the defending champs. The Pacers have to find more ways to get him opportunities on the offensive end.
Ponytail Myles, The Last Samurai, has been a sight to behold.
20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks in the four 🐴 games.
The Indiana Pacers lost Victor Oladipo to a season-ending knee injury in the second quarter of Wednesday’s game. He suffered a ruptured quad tendon that could put him out anywhere from six to twelve months.
There are no adequate words to describe the numbness that comes in the moments and hours directly after witnessing an injury that devastating. Shock, disbelief, clinging to some tiny hope that it isn’t as bad as it seems.
There was no joy in watching the Pacers continue to play after Oladipo was taken out on a stretcher. No anxiety as the game was close in the final minute. None of that mattered much. The Pacers had already lost more than this one game could possibly make up for. Continue reading Where do the Pacers go from here?→
The Indiana Pacers played what may end up being their worst game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers last night.
The game was marred by a lack of energy throughout and crucial miscues in the final minute including three consecutive missed free throws by Victor Oladipo and a blatant foul that went uncalled as Larry Nance Jr. tossed Oladipo to the ground before tipping in the game winner at the buzzer as the Pacers lost 92-91. Just like that the hottest team in the league lost to one destined for the lottery.
Every good team has a game or two like this during the course of the season, but what if I told you this one may have been predetermined by cosmic forces beyond their control?
This isn’t the first time a frustrating, painful loss occurred recently on December 18th for Indiana. It’s starting to look like they’re cursed on this seemingly random day in the final month of the calendar year.
Which of the following sounds more likely? A career 85.8% free-throw shooter refusing to take the foul with his team ahead in the final seconds and instead throw up a hot-air balloon of a pass near the half-court line or the Pacers are simply dealing with some dark magic on this otherwise inconsequential day in their history?
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The NBA is back and the Indiana Pacers return tonight in their season opener.
The Eastern Conference is more wide open than it has been in maybe a decade now that you-know-who has taken his talents to the West, but most of the pundits seem to point to the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors as the favorites to get to the NBA Finals.
While most expect the Pacers to finish at about the same spot in the playoffs as last season, they enter the year with an upgraded bench and a returning starting lineup that had so much chemistry in their first year together. Can they surprise the basketball world a second straight season and make some noise in the playoffs? We’re about to find out.
Here’s some of the questions for the team this season with some predictions sprinkled in as well.
Can Victor Oladipo become an MVP candidate?
In the team’s offseason “mini-camp” in Miami, players came back reporting that Victor Oladipo looked like he was going to be even better than the year before. He was the player that guys pointed out as looking highly improved over the summer.
That’s saying something for the winner of the Most Improved Player award.
“I’m still hungry,” Oladipo said this past July. “I think I’m hungrier now than I was when I first got here. I want to be great. I’ve been saying that since I walked into his facility and started being a Pacer. I want to be one of the greatest to ever play this game. Whatever I got to do to do that, I’m going to try my best to try and achieve that and in the process of winning. That’s the goal.”
Indiana Pacers star guard Victor Oladipo wants to be in the Space Jam sequel.
“Yes, let’s start a campaign,” said Oladipo at media day when asked about his desire to be a Monstar in the LeBron James-led Space Jam sequel. “Let’s make this happen. I would be a crazy Monstar. I think that would be pretty dope.”
I think I should! I would make a great monstar! What y’all think? Should we start a campaign? https://t.co/cXvhqvrlg6
The Indiana Pacers greatest strength last season may have been their chemistry and to this point it looks like it’s only improved over the offseason.
“You know it when you see it,” Myles Turner said of the team’s chemistry after the first training camp practice. “You just feel it.”
Indiana hasn’t played a game yet and you can feel it already. Whether it’s the above picture from media day with most of the returning players laughing together or Bojan Bogdanovic giving Victor Oladipo a huge hug when he first saw him.
“We can beat anybody in the NBA. Don’t know how we stack up w/ them, but I just feel like we can beat anyone.” – @VicOladipo at #Pacers Media day.
Last season was the first year the majority of the team had been with the Pacers as they quickly grew a unique bond. With most of the core contributors returning from last year’s roster, Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard thinks those relationships will continue to grow.
In case this is your first time here, here’s the concept of This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: I take an interesting picture from the history of the Indiana Pacers from ABA glory to the modern era and literally write 1,000 words (or more) about the photo.
We’ve covered the misery of Knicks fans against Reggie Miller, that game the Pacers played with only six active players, among other things. You can see all the past columns here.
Today, we talk about Lance Stephenson. Born Ready. The Lord of Hype. Lance make ’em dance.
Lance Stephenson, the Lord of Hype, the Born Ready, the Honorary Hoosier, the Jester of the House of Bankers: pic.twitter.com/UHEmYdyTwQ
Stephenson’s team option for the 2018-19 season was declined by the Indiana Pacers which will make him a free agent. The final year of his contract was for only $4.3 million, but Kevin Pritchard and the front office must have some kind of splash in mind this offseason and decided they needed to utilize that money to upgrade the roster.
While the team hasn’t completely ruled out bringing him back, that likely will only happen if the Pacers are unable to sign someone else that fills a role similar to his own. With so few teams having cap space this season, it’s hard to see the Pacers completely striking out. This very well could be the end of Stephenson in a Pacers uniform as rumors spread immediately after the Stephenson news broke that the Pacers are interested in Will Barton, Tyreke Evans and Marcus Smart.
Oladipo on Lance: "I Facetimed with him yesterday. He’s in good spirits. He’s a great human being. It was an honor and a privilege to play with him last year."
Whether any of those players will be a large enough upgrade over Stephenson to warrant the greater cost is a discussion for another time. Right now, we’re here to talk Lance. Because if this is truly the end, this is the conclusion of an unforgettable tale of a Brooklyn basketball prodigy that became a beloved Indiana legend.
This picture was chosen for the column over countless other incredible moments is because it shows the effect that Stephenson had on the Pacers faithful at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. It shows how much the city and state embraced him when he returned from his humbling nearly 3-year journey with five other NBA teams, seldom looking like the player he was before leaving.
“When I got the call, I almost cried,” Stephenson said when he first spoke to reporters after signing his contract to return to the Pacers organization. “I feel like Indiana is family.”
When Stephenson came back at the end of the 2016-17 season, he was a beacon of light in one of the darkest times in recent Pacers history as the Paul George situation loomed over the entire franchise. His first game back against the Toronto Raptors was probably the highlight of the season.
The Pacers were on the verge on missing the playoffs with a collective group that had no business not at least making the postseason. Behind an energetic boost from Lance that seemed to give the entire team some liveliness, the Pacers finished the season on a 5-game winning streak and made the playoffs.
The Pacers were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs, but the prodigal son had returned and looked like the Pacers second-best player in the series, almost exactly how Indiana remembered him: aggressive, fearless and flashy.
“Some teams, I’d only get three dribbles, or I’d have to stand in the corner,” Stephenson said this past season when talking about why he’s fit better with Indiana than other places. “They (Pacers staff) let me be myself. They don’t guard me, or tell me not to do stuff. If I play freely, if coaches let me play the game, you’ll see the talent in me.”
When Lance is allowed to be Lance, there is so much to enjoy. You can love him for the silly, slightly crazy parts of his game like the celebrations (air guitar, hip gyration, the bird, the fake heartattack, the shimmy), the headbutting of stanchions after big plays or the fact that searching his name in a GIF finder is a treasure trove of greatness.
All those things showed how much Lance loves the game of basketball. He loves the game with a passion that only can seem to be matched by people from Indiana. He approaches the game with a fierce intensity and a sense of child-like joy. Pure elation when things are going right and never giving up when they aren’t.
There’s nothing quite like experiencing a classic Lance moment in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse as he sizes up an opponent with dribble moves like he’s back in New York at Rucker Park. Every bounce of the ball pushes the crowd closer to a frenzy and when the play reaches its peak as Stephenson goes up for a layup or rises for a jump shot, the entire arena becomes a singular sentient being with the sole purpose of getting hype.
And the moves don’t always work. Sometimes Lance makes pump fakes with one-hand with no effect on the defender, sometimes he loses the ball on the dribble. But maybe that’s part of why the moments are so special when they do.
Now you’re probably asking yourself: well, what did Lance do after he got the ball? Did he at least make Cory look good?
When Stephenson plays, every pass is an opportunity to engage the crowd. No-look, behind-the-back attempts are as commonplace as a fundamentally sound chest or bounce pass. To this day, I’ve never seen a more impressive pass than one Stephenson made during his first tenure in Indiana: a behind-the-back, no-look, in the air pass to a wide open CJ Watson in the corner for a 3-pointer.
When Stephenson gets the crowd involved, it gives everyone else on the team that same adrenaline boost. That’s the Lance Effect. His energy off the bench this season was a huge part of the Pacers penchant for making comebacks. In the first large comeback of the season, it was Stephenson that sparked the effort in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons by grabbing rebounds on both ends and hitting big shots.
He played a huge part of the team’s comeback against the Nuggets later as well. This time it was his defensive effort making a difference.
This is everything Indiana loves about Lance Stephenson in a single picture.
But perhaps bigger than his clear passion for the game, his entertainment value and relentless effort, Indiana fans love Stephenson because he is fearless and won’t back down from anyone, especially when it comes to LeBron James.
“I fear no man,” Stephenson said after the Pacers won Game 6 in the first round against the Cavaliers this season. “You on the other team, I don’t care. I don’t care about you.”
Stephenson is well known for his knack of getting under LeBron’s skin. Something that very few, if any, other players can claim they’ve done. While Stephenson is over-matched in skill, strength and every other measurable category to the best player in the world, he has never backed down from challenge of James.
He blew in his ear. He tapped him across the face, grabbed his chest. He flopped at every opportunity. He’d attempt to provoke him. This past season he finally got James to respond and earned two technical calls against LeBron during the season. But he wasn’t just an irritant, Lance picked up his game in the playoffs as well.
In these battles against James, he perfectly symbolizes his team as the one that always gives the best all they can handle, even if they always seem to fall just short.
Stephenson almost made a jump ball one of the best plays in Pacers history when in the fourth quarter of Game 4, he first won a jump ball against James and then held the ball up like it was Simba in the Lion King. Later, in the closing seconds nearly won another one against Jeff Green that would have possibly given the Pacers one last chance to tie the game as you can see one ref call for a tie up and the other call for a foul at about the same time.
Whether or not Paul George stays in Oklahoma City, the Indiana Pacers already won the last summer’s blockbuster trade.
George could stay as a member of the Thunder as their GM Sam Presti felt “really encouraged” by his dialogue with him (doesn’t that sound familiar, Indiana?). Or, he could do what everyone expects and leave for the Lakers or some other team in free agency. We’ve already heard the rumblings that he’s “gone” as ESPN radio host Ryen Russillo said recently, but it doesn’t matter which way he ends up going. The Pacers are better off now than they would have been by keeping George, even a version of himself that wanted to stay.
No one is making jokes about the Pacers anymore (shout-out to the OKC Police Department, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, who has deleted a tweet from early in the season that included a video from The Jump where she said it was ludicrous to say the Pacers were better off without George, and countless others. The Pacers silenced the critics and proved everyone wrong.
“If you don’t respect the Indiana Pacers now,” Victor Oladipo told reporters after the series against Cleveland, “then I have no respect for you.”
Pacers' Victor Oladipo: "If y'all don't respect the Indiana Pacers now, I have no respect for you. That's just how I feel. Nobody thought we would be here, no one, not one person but us in the locker room. … I feel like we've earned our respect from everyone." pic.twitter.com/427069lfdI
Oladipo’s first season in Indiana was better than George’s final one (both by individual and team success) and he’s two years younger. Oladipo will likely make an All-NBA team and an All-Defensive team this season and the city of Indianapolis has embraced him more than it ever did George.
What has been the most exciting and fulfilling Pacers’ season in years has finally come to an end. What started with confusion, anger, and frustration towards a former player ended with young stars looking towards the future. Somehow losing the franchise’s arguably most talented player in history was a blessing in disguise.
A group primarily made of players who had been given up on or looked over their entire careers, just took one of the greatest players of all-time to the brink of elimination. But more than that, this group brought something back to the people of Indiana that had seemingly escaped this basketball-frenzy state. A sense of “togetherness” that captured the attention of Hoosiers from Elkhart to Evansville. A togetherness that is rare as in professional sports as the caliber of player that eliminated the Pacers in the first round.
What is this togetherness that has echoed the Pacers locker room since late last summer? It’s indescribable, but Hoosiers can sense it from a mile away. It’s a “we above me” mindset, it’s putting the team first and letting individual accolades come as they may. It’s about striving for something that seems out of reach, too good to be true, and not letting the challenge overtake the journey. It’s Victor Oladipo talking about this franchise as if it’s part of his immediate family. It’s Myles Turner’s resilience when the critics (me included) hounded him about his inconsistency. It’s the resolve of the entire team that seemed to always comeback from a double-digit deficit and at minimum make the game interesting. It’s Lance Stephenson’s… well I don’t know, but Lance was Born Ready and born to play basketball in Indiana. He loves the game like only a Hoosier can. It’s the moment when seemingly all 15 Pacer players rushed to help pick up Cory Joseph after driving to the hoop. Actually, let me correct that, it’s when Pacers fans across the state saw that moment and recognized it from memories past.
Maybe you recognized it from playing pick-up at your local park during a hot summer day in the Hoosier state. Maybe you recognized it from an Indiana high school sectional final during a brisk February night. Maybe you recognized it from your child’s YMCA league. But wherever you recognized it from, you knew one thing to be true, it was Indiana through and through.
It took Victor Oladipo 16 minutes after the game ended to start thinking about next season and to text his trainer.
Close to a year later, no one is cracking jokes. The Pacers demanded everyone’s respect in their round one playoff series, they demanded your attention. Not because of their star power or their flashiness, but because of their togetherness. Their abilities and potential as a unit. The energy that connected Pacers fans with an energy and passion that had been dormant for too long. A rejuvenated spirit that only basketball can seem to bring to the state of Indiana. A sense of togetherness that goes beyond Oladipo and Turner, that moves through the young kids watching on TV or listening on the radio, that brings chills and goosebumps to those in the seats of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Yes, this Indiana team has started a new era of Pacers basketball, but more importantly, this group has brought basketball back to where it needs to be: front and center in the hearts and minds of Hoosiers everywhere.
Together, they have put the NBA on notice.
The Indiana Pacers are back, and so is basketball in Indiana.
A revealing Nate McMillan postgame:
"We created a culture with our organization that we will continue to build.
“We want guys who are going to come in and play for the name on the front of that jersey. It’s not about the name on the back, it’s about the Indiana Pacers." pic.twitter.com/2A416bNLn0