Lance Stephenson returned to Indiana to a standing ovation. By the end of Tuesday night's 108-90 win over Toronto, it was clear that “Born Ready” was back and in full city, gritty form as a deft ball handler and playmaker, antagonist and the all-around edge that the Indiana Pacers need as they enter the playoffs as an eighth seed.
Stephenson chipped in with 12 crucial points to help the Pacers turn a 19-point deficit into an 18-point comeback win in a huge Eastern Conference matchup.
However, in the game's waning seconds, with the shot clock off and the Pacers handily ahead, Born Ready took an open lay-up with 3.3 seconds left instead of running out the clock.
Toronto players went ballistic as DeMar DeRozan and PJ Tucker got up in Stephenson’s face and began shouting at him. DeRozan even pushed him in the back, but Lance, who was enjoying being back in the NBA and playing with a purpose, just allowed the abuse and walked off the court with a slight smirk.
The Raptors had more to say in the locker room. Tucker called the shot "tasteless."
Stephenson doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize his NBA career after signing a fresh new three-year, $12 million deal. The 6-foot-5 playground legend from Lincoln H.S. in Brooklyn actually apologized after the game.
"I tried to come in, play smart, not do too much. Be aggressive and make smart plays...," Stephenson said. "I was very emotional and I almost teared up but..everybody’s cheering my name like “go, go”...
“I just want to say sorry to the Raptors, I didn’t mean no harm. I wanted to do it for the fans. I just want to say sorry.”
NBA TV analysts Chris Webber and Greg Anthony said Toronto was dead wrong for reacting in that manner and were more mad that they got their butts kicked.
"Lance should do this every time, " said Webber. "What’s the point? If the Raptors want to win. Then win the game.”
Said Anthony: “I don't think it warranted that response. I think that’s more about getting blasted on the road.”
What a difference a few years make.
Paul George was one of the more vocal opponents of the Pacers resigning Lance a few years back and now he is applauding Lance’s emotional impact on the team. George realizes that the Pacers lacked a fire, passion and playground love for the game that Stephenson brings every night -- along with some antics that might piss off the opposing team.
With Born Ready, you take the good with the bad and hope that you can capture some significant moments of magnificence from him during the playoffs, because when he gets going, he is a multifaceted threat that can turn the game into a throwback, street war all by himself.