On the day before the Indiana Pacers opened their first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks, guards Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner fought during practice to the point that teammate intervention was required, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports:
On the eve of this Eastern Conference series, the wobbling No. 1 seed punctuated its final playoff preparations in a most self-destructive way: Two Indiana Pacers dragged a cursing, cut Evan Turner out of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court, untangling him from a practice-floor fistfight with teammate Lance Stephenson.
Turner hadn't been the first Pacer to lose his temper with Stephenson these tumultuous several weeks, and Stephenson's relentlessly irritable nature suggests Turner won't be the last. These scrapes aren't uncommon in the NBA, but this confrontation had been weeks in the making and that reflected in the ferocity of the encounter, sources told Yahoo Sports.
"This stuff happens, but the timing wasn't ideal," one witness told Yahoo Sports.
The falling skies crashing down on the Circle City undoubtedly move this story a little higher on the news cycle than it would normally sit.
UPDATE: Wednesday, April 23, at 2:05 p.m. ET by Dan Favale
Turner clarified the nature of his altercation with Stephenson, per The Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner:
Evan Turner on altercation with Stephenson: "It was just a tangle up and that was it." Also: "There weren't no punches thrown."— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 23, 2014
Turner called the altercation "five-second mishap." Said he doesn't remember what caused it except for bumping into each other— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 23, 2014
Turner: "The whole thing that punches got thrown and all this nonsense occurred... That never happened."— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 23, 2014
If true, Turner's account describes a situation far less significant—which is good news for the Pacers, who have plenty of other things (playoffs, Hawks, playoffs, Hawks, etc.) to worry about.
Chemistry concerns have surrounded Indiana's slide from elite (46-13 in its first 59 games) to vulnerable (11-14 since March 4). From Roy Hibbert's "selfish dudes" rant against his teammates to the diminishing returns in the box score, the Pacers crashed into worst-case-scenario territory and kept falling uncontrollably.
Practice fights happen in the NBA. The fact that Stephenson, a known agitator, and Turner, a player searching for his spot on a new team, were involved surprises no one.
In late March, Stephenson and guard George Hill had to be separated during a sideline spat, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports. Sources also told Stein that Hibbert's criticism of his teammates was essentially aimed at one person: Stephenson.
He's had a short fuse with opponents, and that apparently doesn't grow a lot for his teammates. Assuming he practices even half as hard as he plays, it's almost surprising we don't hear about more in-house conflicts around him.
Still, it's hard not to correlate this news with Indy's ghastly showing in its series-opening 101-93 loss Saturday.
"Everything was on display there," CBSSports.com's Zach Harper wrote. "Every miscue was followed by shoulders dropping, frowns forming, and exasperated stares coming out of their eyes. Any semblance of chemistry was a distance wish and the fear of not living up to expectations seemed to be saturating every moment they had on the court."
The Pacers were embarrassed at home—the Hawks led by as many as 20—and didn't seem to care. Given the apparent fractures in the locker room, it isn't hard to see why this team might have trouble coming together for a common goal.
To be clear, no one in that locker room has tried using the reported confrontation as an excuse for the performance. The Pacers, publicly at least, sound as if they've already swept it under the rug.
Indiana showed flashes of brilliance in Tuesday's 101-85 Game 2 victory. A dominant 31-13 third quarter captured the Pacers at their best: aggressive and productive at both ends of the floor.
Maybe those 12 minutes will be the turning point that saves Indiana's season. Maybe they'll be forgotten if the Pacers look lethargic once again in Game 3 (Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on NBATV).
For now, they'll be just another storyline included in Indiana's baggage. The practice fisticuffs session will be no different.
"It's more drama for a Pacers team that thought it might have a chance to put the drama behind it Tuesday with a win to even the series vs. Atlanta," CBSSports.com's Matt Moore wrote. "But you can bet more questions about this fight will be waiting for the Pacers this week."
For a team that's spent the last few months swimming in drama-rich waters, it will be business as usual.