Players' imperfections tend to be magnified during times of turmoil.
For the Indiana Pacers, it doesn't get much more, uh, turmoil-y than right now. After flying out to a 46-13 start and looking like arguably the best team in the NBA, Frank Vogel's squad lost 13-of-23 to close the season. Roy Hibbert, once a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, has looked like a lesser version of Luc Longley. Paul George, once an MVP candidate, saw his offensive efficiency plummet.
To top it all off, they dropped Game 1 of the playoffs at home to an Atlanta Hawks squad that won 46.3 percent of its games during the regular season.
The Pacers turned things around in the second half of Game 2 to even the series, but with the way things have gone, it's not surprising that a story of a fight in practice between Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner is being blown out of proportion.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the details:
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.
Of course, Turner, via the Indy Star's Candace Buckner, later attempted to play down the altercation:
But the Pacers' tumultuous last couple of months has been the biggest story in the NBA, and when a scuffle between a newcomer—who happened to arrive at the same time the team began to struggle—and a known agitator happens to coincide at the same time, it clearly means the team is falling apart at the seams.
In all seriousness, while the timing is not ideal, let's not make this a thing about team chemistry. Fights in practice happen everywhere, and Stephenson was the same fiery player—who plenty of others have often wanted to punch—when the Pacers were winning, too.
This has nothing to do with Indiana's struggles on the court. It's just an incident that is being amplified because of those same struggles.
On the court, though, Vogel has some decisions to make regarding Stephenson, who has turned in a breakout season.
The Pacers finally began to click in the second half of Game 2, but there were some interesting lineup choices being made.
Stephenson came out of the locker room with the rest of the starters, and that unit out-scored Atlanta, 20-11, in the first seven minutes, 21 seconds. But the talented shooting guard was then replaced by C.J. Watson, and he would never return.
Here's how the rest of the lineups fared without the fourth-year star:
|Indiana Pacers Game 2 Lineups after Lance Stephenson's Departure|
It will be quite compelling to see if Vogel goes back to quintet of George Hill, Watson, Paul George, Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi, who played just one minute together all year but looked extremely good in the third and fourth quarters Tuesday.
Going forward, it would probably be best to ignore who Stephenson pisses off next. That's just who he is on the court, and his relentless energy and antagonizing attitude is going to rub people the wrong way. It's not going to affect the Pacers one way or another.
How Vogel deploys the 23-year-old against the Hawks, on the other hand, will be intriguing.