‘Showtime Lance’: Stephenson, Domantas Sabonis notch career-highs in Pacers’ win over Jazz.
Pacers vs. Jazz: Lance Stephenson:
INDIANAPOLIS – It was the play of the game made by the stars of the night.
Pacers guard Lance Stephenson faked a crossover, went around Jazz guard Bojan Bogdanovic, and as Hassan Whiteside slid over to stop him from going to the basket, Stephenson whipped a one-handed no-look chest pass to Domantas Sabonis, who finished off the sequence with a left-handed jam.
Sabonis screamed to the 13,160 fans at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Saturday after the dunk, while Stephenson, in his fourth game back with the team that drafted him in 2010, egged on the crowd by prancing around and holding his right hand in the air.
“We took it back because you know me and Domas, we was in the second unit the second time I came back here (in 2017-18), and me and him used to do the pick and roll and it used to be like showtime,” Stephenson said. “So I just felt like it was a flashback like, ‘Oh, man! I just know he gonna be there!’ and you know I had to put my little twist on it.”
That highlight-reel play at the 6:50 mark of the fourth quarter summed up a memorable outing for Sabonis and Stephenson, who meshed flawlessly in Indiana’s 125-113 victory over the Jazz. Stephenson finished with a career-high 14 assists off the bench, and Sabonis poured in a career-high 42 points, with 21 of those points coming off 10 assists from the teammate he considers “a legend.”
“That’s Lance, man. Showtime Lance,” said Sabonis, who made his first 10 shots. “That’s all him. I just gotta be ready to catch and finish because if not, he’s in trouble.”
Stephenson recently signed a 10-day hardship deal with the Pacers due to their COVID-19 issues and said Friday at practice that he still knows Sabonis like “the back of my hand.” He proved it Saturday by constantly finding the two-time All-Star en route to Sabonis’ first 40-point game.
“Lance has a lot to do with that career number (Saturday) for Domas. They fit together,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. ” … Lance with the ball is a guy that can make a lot of things happen, and he has the ability to be unpredictable yet under control. And it just helps loosen things up for Domas and the rest of our team. The intriguing thing about Lance is that he’s so unselfish. It’s really a cool characteristic of him as player and as a person.
“I just think in general he’s a giver, and he’s an energy giver, too.”
As Stephenson quarterbacked the offense, even throwing a touchdown-like pass to Oshae Brissett for a fast-break layup in the third quarter, he scored 16 points for the 30th double-double of his career.
Saturday’s win also marked the second straight game that Stephenson galvanized the Pacers. He scored an NBA-record 20 points off the bench in the first quarter Wednesday against the Nets, but Brooklyn prevailed as Kyrie Irving imposed his will in the fourth quarter of his season debut.
This time around, it was Stephenson who took over down the stretch against Utah and helped Indiana snap a six-game losing streak. He dished seven assists, and Sabonis scored 12 points in the final frame, much to the delight of their teammates.
“Our bench hasn’t been this into the game in any game this year. It’s not that they’re not good guys. There just hasn’t been the same kind of vibe (since Stephenson rejoined the franchise),” Carlisle said. “When this move was made, (team president Kevin Pritchard) told me, ‘We need some personality. We need some energy. A lot of people are gonna roll their eyes at this.’ I said, ‘I’m not rolling my eyes. I just want to know as much as I can about this guy so we can turn him loose and let him play his game.'”
The freedom Stephenson has been given allowed him to expand his playmaking beyond the chemistry he shares with Sabonis. As the Jazz staged a late comeback, cutting a 16-point first-half lead to two points in the fourth quarter, Stephenson steered the Pacers to the finish line by trusting teammates he’s only been with for a week.
One of those teammates is Justin Holiday. Leading 95-93 with just over 9 minutes left in the game, Holiday missed a 3-pointer from the left wing that could’ve given Indiana some breathing room. Instead of losing faith in the 6-6 swingman, Stephenson passed the ball to Holiday twice a few minutes later, and Holiday rewarded his trust by drilling back-to-back 3-pointers Utah never recovered from.
“There are guys that deliver the ball in a way that elicits confidence and belief, and particularly in these two home games we’ve seen that (from Stephenson),” Carlisle said. “Look, I don’t want to go too over the top on this because he’s playing well, but the vibe that’s happening right now is something that’s much needed for our group.”
In the closing moments of Saturday’s game, Stephenson hyped up the crowd — which roared every time he subbed in — by waving his arms and grabbing his jersey. He hopes to experience that feeling again in the near future.
“I’m just excited, man. We got our first win (since I’ve been here),” Stephenson said. “It’s all about winning for real. You can have all of the points you want, but if you don’t win, it don’t matter. So I was just so excited that we got the win (Saturday), and I gotta get the fans involved because that’s like family.”