Lance Stephenson finds his groove

Through the first ten games, Lance Stephenson’s play was the only true disappointment. Chemistry, defensive play, and late wins will come in time. He clearly wasn’t himself though.

Stephenson went from “too hyped” to stop thinking and focused on rebounding and finding open teammates. That’s where he builds confidence and leads to positive plays on offense.

Playing the sixth man role this season, Stephenson had 14 points and a season-high nine rebounds Tuesday in a 117-112 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

“I thought it was really encouraging,” coach Nate McMillan said afterwards. “Not only were his shots falling, but he was rebounding the ball. We desperately need help on the boards.”

Stephenson, who played a season-high 28 minutes in the loss, made positive contributions in the first quarter. That, combined with two fouls on Victor Oladipo, earned him extra minutes. He played the entire second quarter where the Pacers outscored the Pelicans 38-27 to post a 75-point first half.

“That confidence, man,” he said of what got him going. He averaged 5.2 points on 28-percent shooting through the first ten games.

“I feel like the last couple of games I was thinking too much and not playing my game. I just came out today without thinking and it started off with defense and rebounding. I feel like when I get a rebound or an assist it gets me going.”

[Sabonis sidelined with calf contusion]

After a good start, we saw several highlights from him that we’ve come to expect. Like the no-look passes or  galloping down the floor. That’s when you know he’s in a grove.

14 points (making 5 of 9 shots) was his best output since opening night when he tallied 16 – but it came on 6-of-19 shooting. He attempted more shots than any Pacer in the 140-131 win over Brooklyn.

Tuesday night was a different outcome. The Pacers lost their third straight game with all three decided in the final minutes. This one was tough considering they owned a 12-point fourth quarter lead.

The offense, however, got stagnant as several players suggested they probably got too comfortable after tallying 75 points in the first two quarters. They scored as many points in the second half as they scored in the first period: 37.

“I think when the games get close, a little bit of pressure gets to us and we’re maybe not playing the same way we usually play,” Stephenson said. “Just think we need to keep that confidence, that same energy that we have in the first half.”

The Pacers (5-6) now head back out on the road — for three of their next four games and five of their next eight.

“We just got to execute in pressure situations, like we’ve been in the last few games,” McMillan said.

“Right now we’re just not sharp on either end of the floor. We can’t give up 35-point quarters as we’ve done in the last two games and give up 50-plus [second-half] points. You’re putting a lot of pressure on your offense – and then you’re playing against a set defense when you’re giving up that many points.”

[Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

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