Indiana Pacers: Lance Stephenson’s Return Was Just Like The Old Days

Lance Stephenson played his first game in an Indian Pacers uniform since 2014. In a regular-season classic against the Cleveland Cavaliers, it almost seemed like he’d never left.

If you watched Sunday night’s game between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers, it might’ve seemed like a flashback to the early 2010s. LeBron James and Paul George traded massive buckets. A close game throughout that ended in double overtime.

Oh, and Lance Stephenson did Lance Stephenson things.

Lance Stephenson was in a Pacer uniform for the first time since the 2013-14 season. Since then, he bounced around the league and never really relocated that unsteady balance of craziness and ability. At his peak, he was a nasty defensive force who could get under the skin of his opponents.

His offense wasn’t half bad either and he had a decent all-around game.

But, then he started to move around. When Stephenson went to the Charlotte Hornets, he under-performed on a big contract. Worse, he was simply dreadful on offense (17.1 percent from deep). Quickly, Stephenson’s time in Charlotte turned into a short stint, rather than a new start for him.

He was going to be a vital two-way piece alongside Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller. Instead, he averaged 25.8 minutes in just 51 games.

The last time that Stephenson spent an entire season with just one team was that sole year in Charlotte. He spent the 2015-16 season playing for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies. Stephenson was arguably as bad as he’s ever been for the Clippers.

But he did have a nice bounce-back to the season in Memphis. He even averaged a career-high 14.2 points per game.

Still, it wasn’t meant to be. This season, Stephenson has barely played–six games for the New Orleans Pelicans and six games for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Neither place worked out and, although he wasn’t noticeably terrible, it just seemed like nobody really needed his services anymore.

Cut to now, after all that, and Stephenson is back with the team where he got his name. It’s honestly hard to believe he’s even back, given all the craziness and furor around him. And, of course, his first game back came against the LeBron James-led Cavaliers.

The 135-130 double overtime win by the Cavs really did feel like one of those Miami Heat-Pacers series from a few years ago. James and George both finished with more than 40 points. Neither team could vanquish the other until the very last of the 58 minutes.

Oddly enough, Stephenson was there, too.

Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill may be gone, but Stephenson did look like his old self at times. He jawed with the Cavs, tried to annoy them in his typical Lance way and ultimately struggled to make that much of an impact.

Stephenson finished with just seven points, six rebounds and three assists. Unsurprisingly, he picked up five personal fouls.

It was truly bizarre that Stephenson’s first game back for Indiana coincided with a regular-season classic against one of his biggest foes, even if James would never believe that. And, for all the hype and excitement around the game, the Pacers still lost.

That puts them in an extremely difficult position. For the first time in a while, Indiana is actually on the outside looking in, tied with Miami for eighth place, but in ninth on the wrong end of a tiebreaker.

Can Stephenson be enough of a spark plug to propel the Pacers to the playoffs? Probably not but, if he can find even a semblance of his old form, Indiana has a chance to make the postseason.

Stephenson is never going to be the starting 2-guard who could effectively guard alongside George and be a dynamic force on offense. Stephenson can still be an annoyance off the bench, an electric up-and-down player.

It remains to be seen if that early-2010s magic is what the Pacers have been missing. They’re going back to what worked, only it’s what worked a few years ago.

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