Last night was intense. It came through on the broadcast. Michael Grady kept talking about it. Friends on Facebook who were at the game kept posting about it. I’m told there was a fight in the stands towards the end of the game. There was a little bit of a dust up on the floor, along with all the monitoring of flagrant fouls. Intense. Can the world handle seven games of this in a couple months? I guess we’ll find out.
Speaking of the intensity, these are the sorts of games Lance Stephenson shines in. He came into the national consciousness from getting a little too into the first Pacers-Heat series, but that was just a footnote. When he got a chance to get on the floor, he turned out to be the best X factor the Pacers have had in some time, especially when he knows he can grab the spotlight. Last night was no exception. He started out on fire from outside, made big plays slashing to the basket later on. The downside of somebody that plays that emotionally? Well, we saw that when he got himself kicked out of the game.
Let’s get this out of the way first: I don’t think that second technical should have been called, especially in light of how LeBron’s taunting went overlooked. That was far too weak a call in such a monster of a game. But, you know, that’s one of those times where you just cannot put yourself in that situation to start with. Especially when you’re already running around with a technical to your name from the first scuffle. Which I really didn’t have a problem with either way, honestly. If they just let it all go with some stern looks and warnings, I would have been fine with that. The double technical was fine, too. But once that decision was made, Lance just simply has to know that he just doesn’t have the luxury of getting to that level.
I’m dying to know what Lance actually said to Dwyane Wade. I’m sure I’ll never actually find out, but I would hope he got his money’s worth. I would also hope that Lance realizes he’s now a technical away from a one game suspension. I don’t know exactly how that works. Something I should probably look up. But I’m hoping it’s not another suspension for each technical foul after the next one. That could be deadly for the Pacers moving forward.
I’ve seen multiple people either on Twitter or on TV talk about how this could be the wake up call that finally gets Lance to mature a little bit out on the floor. Not so much with his game, but with the antics. Which, I mean, that’s fine to hope that. I hope that, too. But I’m not optimistic. I feel like we’ve been here before with Lance. Pacer fans and coaches are like the poor, abused wife with an alcoholic husband. Sure, they have all the reasons in the world to get sober and they keep promising this is it. They’ll change, they’ll change, the thinking goes. And it never happens. What’s the line on Modern Family? You can change somebody about 15%. I don’t think that’s enough flexibility to get Lance to ratchet down a notch.
All that aside, though, you can’t be anything but pleased with everything else the Pacers did last night. They generally played well, outplaying the Heat for all but the third quarter and a little change. They executed the game plan that most teams try with the Heat almost to a T: do your best on LeBron, but make sure he gets no help. And, true to form, LeBron was pretty well a one man team out there. And at one point had ten of his twenty points at the free throw line. I don’t know that you can ever really keep LeBron away from the free throw line. He plays too physical* and gets too many friendly whistles. But if you can clean up on that a bit, this isn’t even a game.
*Which he should. The man is a beast in pretty well every sense of the word.
Going forward, does this game really mean anything? Not any more than any other regular season win. Which, granted, at this point in the season and the goals the Pacers have very publicly stated, regular season wins are awfully nice. You’re still in a tight race for that top spot in the East, every win matters. Especially over the team that is right on your tail. But it’s not like the Pacers are going to be able to point to last night’s game, or the game in the Fieldhouse back in December, and get credit for it in the playoffs. Is it nice to be able to get home court advantage* and point out that Miami never won in Indiana, but that in no way means that Miami can’t steal a game or two in the playoffs. The same is true if the Pacers manage to win the last game in Miami. Sure, it’s nice to get a win on the rival’s home floor, but you don’t get credit for that in the summer. You just have to do it again.
*Assuming that does actually happen. Even with the win last night, there is certainly no guarantee of that happening. Again, just one game out of 82. The only thing it clinched was the division, which, frankly, was never really a competition, even with a healthy Derrick Rose.
What is nice to see is that the Pacers do still have that extra gear. The bench, though I wouldn’t say filled me with confidence, did enough to hold serve. Evan Turner, as much as I derided him through most of last night’s game, came up very big when Lance was tossed. And Luis Scola is not going to be this cold shooting forever. It just can’t happen. CJ Watson, I’m assuming, is going to come back. If he is in any form like he was earlier in the season, that is going to be a huge lift both for the bench and for the starters. George Hill is a hell of a player, but I’m not sure if you want him playing the kind of heavy minutes he’s been forced into since that injury. Honestly, I’m not sure if you want any player at all to play the kind of heavy minutes he’s been forced into. I absolutely believe that played a huge role in Hill missing those two free throws at the end of the game. The dude was just tired, as he has every right to be. For the past, I dunno, ten plus games anyway, the Pacers don’t really have a back up point guard. Donald Sloan is a nice spare tire to get you through the first half, but I don’t think anybody trusts him in the second half of games like last night. We need CJ, and we need him badly. I normally want George Hill on the line in that sort of situation like last night, but I would like him better if he hadn’t been putting so many miles on those legs in the second half of games.
As thrilled as I am with the win last night, though, I will say there is a level of frustration. I know every team goes through it’s ups and downs and simply slogging through the grind is going to happen. But, damn, if the Pacers had played with half of that intensity through the last month or so, they probably would already have the conference wrapped up. Oh well. Nothing to be done about that. All there is to worry about now is that the Pacers seem to have finally found that playoff switch, and it could not have come at a better time.