6 Plays from Game 4 of the ECF That Prove Lance Stephenson's X-Factor Status

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6 Plays from Game 4 of the ECF That Prove Lance Stephenson's X-Factor Status
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If the 2013 NBA playoffs have taught me anything, it's that the Indiana Pacers' Lance Stephenson is one of the most exciting, yet maddening, professional basketball players to watch.

A one-on-three fast break? Stephenson is up for the challenge.

Trading verbal blows with future NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen? Stephenson backs down to no one.

He plays with such confidence, and a high motor that often leaves the only possible outcomes on opposite extremes of the spectrum. He can dazzle the crowd with an attacking drive to the rim on one possession, but a careless pass or extremely ill-advised shot by Stephenson can make Pacers fans want to rip their hair out on Indiana's next trip down the court.

Stephenson's belief that he can do anything on the court likely originates from playing in New York's Rucker League during his teenage years, when he acquired the nickname "Born Ready." Newsday's Greg Logan described the nature of "Born Ready" in an article on May 11.

Maybe the nickname fit Coney Island's Lance Stephenson back in the day when he was dominating older players in the Rucker League and leading Lincoln High to a record four straight PSAL Class AA titles. Physically, he truly was a man among boys as a teenage basketball phenom.

So, when a Rucker League announcer bestowed the "Born Ready" nickname upon him, Stephenson not only basked in the glow, he adopted the playground persona as his own. The expectations were reinforced in an online documentary by that title, chronicling his junior year of high school.

In an Eastern Conference Finals matchup with four All-Stars this season, great individual matchups (three-time MVP LeBron James vs. 2013 Most Improved Player Paul George; Shane Battier, Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem vs. Roy Hibbert, David West and Tyler Hansbrough) and contrasting styles of play (the finesse and fast-break oriented Heat vs. the physical, defensive-minded Pacers), Stephenson may be the X-factor for the entire series.

In Tuesday's broadcast on TNT, NBA Hall of Famer and commentator Reggie Miller described Stephenson as the "wild card" in the series. 

"When he plays under control in a team scheme, this team is very dangerous," Miller said.

Miller's partner on air, Steve Kerr, said that it never gets old watching Stephenson play.

"He’s a one-man fast break when he gets the board. He’s going to put his head down and go right to the rim. I love it, it’s a dimension this team doesn’t really have," he said. 

Stephenson, the state of New York's all-time leading high school scorer, has progressed from a rookie who only appeared in 12 games in the 2010-11 season to becoming a starter and key producer in his third year in the league. "Born Ready" has started all 16 of Indiana's postseason games, averaging more than 10 points and nearly eight rebounds per game to go along with his 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.

In the third quarter of Game 3 in last year's Miami-Indiana series, Stephenson gave LeBron James a "choking gesture" after James missed a technical free throw. Stephenson played only seven minutes in the entire series and scored just one point against Miami.

In this year's Game 4, Stephenson scored 20 points, grabbed five rebounds and his main defensive assignment, Ray Allen, made just four of his 13 shots in the game.

Stephenson was born ready for big-time play in the NBA playoffs.

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