Try as he might, Lance Stephenson’s attempts to knock LeBron James and the Miami Heat off course by employing all manner of middle school playground trickery wound up backfiring spectacularly in the Heat’s series-clinching 117-92 blowout of the Indiana Pacers Friday night.
And yet James—who logged 25 points, four rebounds and six assists in just 32 minutes—admitted it took everything he had not to let his baser instincts prevail. From Pro Basketball Talk’s Brett Pollakoff:
I don’t know. I have no idea how I restrained. I don’t know, I guess I just understand what the bigger picture is.
It was uncalled for, for sure. That was — I don’t know. I’m at a loss of words with that, but it was uncalled for, and I was able to move on from it. I let him know how I felt.
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.
Judging by his demeanor in the heat of the moment, LeBron, while certainly irritated, seemed to understand the stakes and scope of what was happening. Stephenson could’ve sprayed a can of silly string in James’ eyeballs, and that wouldn’t have been half as crazy as LeBron retaliating in any serious way.
Here’s David Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on the deeper meaning of Miami’s convincing, dynamic-affirming win Friday night:
Stephenson played the villain again Friday. He competed in the only way he thought possible by using a bag of tricks that oscillated between the mischievous and the moronic.
He shouldered LeBron. He elbowed him. When LeBron fell to the court, Stephenson straddled him, not letting him up. And then there was the palming of LeBron's nose that briefly made him have words for Stephenson.
But this night another night where LeBron let his game be the story. He hit all nine of his foul shots. He set the pace of the Heat's offense. He did everything that the Pacers' big star, Paul George, did not.
You name it, Stephenson tried it: getting close enough to LeBron on a defensive stance to know what he had for lunch, attempting to draw offensive fouls by sneakily stepping in front of James while running down the floor and, most infamously, whispering sweet nothings into King James’ ear in Indy’s Game 5 win.
And by “sweet nothings,” we of course mean “hot, smelly air from Stephenson's mouth.”
Stephenson was also assessed a flagrant-1 foul for smacking Norris Cole in the mouth in what appeared at first glance to be an earnest attempt on a loose ball. Later video evidence suggested, well, you be the judge.
Stephenson’s antics—“tugging on Superman’s cape,” in the words of head coach Frank Vogel—were so weirdly out of line, in fact, that Pacers president Larry Bird recommended the fiery shooting guard cease and desist in the wake of Game 5.
That Stephenson ignored Larry Legend’s advice speaks to the greater dilemma the Pacers face in whether to re-sign the fourth-year guard, who is poised to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
On certain nights, Stephenson’s energy and undeniable versatility are enough to single-handedly win games for Indiana. On others, his immaturity and cavalier larks damage not only his reputation—and, it should be noted, his future earnings potential—but his team’s chemistry as well.
And yet here we are, 600 words into a post that was supposed to be about LeBron’s cool-headed response and wound up, instead, another notch in the Legend of Lance.
Then again, maybe this all just goes to show the starkest difference between the two during this whole stupid sideshow: Only one of them needs it to survive.