Post-Game Grades: Pacers Win as Lance Stephenson’s Fundamental Flash Takes Over
What a typical Pacers game. They started out forcefully, doubling up the Wizards in the first 12 minutes, finishing the first quarter with a 28-14 lead. Our capital’s professional basketball team is much improved from years past, but without Bradley Beal (out for a month or so with a broken leg) and Nenê (sore Achille’s) there was very little chance they would recover from this early deficit.
Every the good hosts, however, the Pacers gave them a shot. They did so by missing shots.
In the second quarter, Indiana did what they like to do about once per game: play like trash for 12 minutes. They missed 17 of the 23 field goals they chucked at the rim, and allowed the Wizards to mount a 14-3 run that cut their early lead to four (38-34).
By halftime, it was again a game.
Then a funny thing happened. They inbounded the ball again to play two more quarters, and Indiana guillotined every Wizard. The lead soon hit 14 as Roy Hibbert dropped a quick six points and Paul George added a triple. In just over three minutes of third quarter action, the Pacers had undone all the comeback work the Wizards had accomplished before halftime.
Indiana was following their recipe for success, and it almost seemed like there would be nothing more to see here.
He had been playing well, if someone erratically, early on. A flashy behind-the-back pass to Paul George near the beginning of the game had gotten his blood churning a bit, but it still didn’t foreshadow how hyped he would become as the game looked increasingly secured and he started to break out the flash.
The marquee play for which this game will be remembered was quintessential Lance Stephenson. It was one part hot sauce, one part pure fundamentals. Ostensibly, he simply caught a pass from Paul George and made a swing pass to the open man on the perimeter. As far as accomplishing the goal of exploiting a poorly rotating Wizards defense by shifting sides of the court, it was something you’re taught in fourth grade. But of course, this wasn’t any ordinary swing pass. Lance knew the strong side was overloaded before George even tried to move the ball back to the middle of the court. So as the ball floated towards him, Stephenson leapt to grab it and — while hanging in mid-damn-air — put the rock behind his back and flung it at C.J. Watson in the corner. All in one motion. Through it the accuracy wasn’t perfect, Watson was so open that he had plenty of time to make the catch, re-set himself and hit the triple to put Indiana up by 23. Just incredible.
Lance would add another sensationally fundamental assist soon after, recognizing that Luis Scola would be wide open while running the floor before anyone else in the building knew this fact. With all five Wizards racing back in transition, Lance found the seam and threaded the ball to Scola, who caught it in stride and laid it in as easily as a paperboy dropping off this morning’s Indianapolis Star. As he did after his first-quarter dish to Paul George, Stephenson celebrated the bucket with pure glee. It’s as if even he can’t believe that he sees this stuff sometimes.
It’s funny. Lance still blunders at times while trying to make a too-difficult play that for him seems routine. But as much as this gets choked up to him “going playground” or trying to be too flashy, it’s almost always rooted in fundamentals. He’s trying to make a too-difficult entry pass or drive-and-kick after bull rushing 90 feet following a rebound. Usually, the flash overshadows the wonderful basketball play he is trying to make.
He is certainly improved at this. But it isn’t brand new. In January, we posted this video of the playmaking ability that he was showing early last season. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and though he could look out of control, the brilliance was apparent. Just look at how often he turned a mach four takeoff into a fundamental assist that set up a teammate for a wide-open jumper.
That’s why all these passes last night — while shockingly impressive — weren’t surprising. His night was simply the culmination of a tendency he has increasingly been showing, and getting closer to mastering, since he started getting major minutes in this league.
Just the Fundamental Flash, steady making the ordinary look brilliant.
|David West, PF 27 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +14
Was 1-for-4 in the second quarter during which Indiana shot 26.1% (6-for-23) overall. Otherwise played fine, though seemed partly responsible for some of the soft interior defense that saw D.C. getting too many easy looks inside.
|Paul George, SF 36 MIN | 10-19 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 23 PTS | +30
Forced a couple looks, but we’re just nit-picking at this point. That 4x4x4 looks slick in the box score and 23 points on 19 shots — with no FTs — is a splendid little total. Would like some trips to the stripe, but again … picking nits.
|Roy Hibbert, C 28 MIN | 4-10 FG | 5-6 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +21
Only 1 block? What’s going on here? Still played well.
|George Hill, PG 30 MIN | 5-16 FG | 1-1 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +10
Couldn’t hit from deep, but I liked the way he was playing early on. Aggressive and had some nice defensive plays. Busted out a sick little Euro step finish on the break.
|Lance Stephenson, SG 37 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 11 REB | 10 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 8 TO | 7 PTS | +11
Jesus Christ, guy. Save some highlights for the rest of the league. In one game, he may have thrown the two best behind-the-back passes this franchise has seen since Mark Jackson was shimmying around Market Square Arena.
|Luis Scola, PF 21 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +6
Nice little game.
|Chris Copeland, SF 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -3
|Solomon Hill, SF 21 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +4
Knocked down some triples. Had a nice offensive board I remember.
|Ian Mahinmi, C 16 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +2
|C.J. Watson, PG 16 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +12
This kid is a gamer. Plus he knocked down that corner three after Lance’s aerial behind-the-back pass — which had he missed would have been a catastrophic highlight buzzkill.
|Donald Sloan, PG 2 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-1 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -2
|Orlando Johnson, SG 3 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -5