Lance Stephenson finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting in the Pacers’ Game 5 win over the Heat, and overall, those numbers didn’t have all that much of an impact on the game’s final result.
Stephenson, however, tried to put his stamp on this one in other ways, the most noticeable being an odd exchange where he was seen blowing in the ear of LeBron James.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel wasn’t exactly in support of this particular tactic, saying the following day that he wants his guys to be competitive without crossing the line. And the team’s president, Larry Bird, similarly wasn’t pleased with Stephenson’s odd behavior.
But if you thought the actual incident was funny and entertaining, there’s one important man who doesn’t.
Asked via text message if he was bothered by Stephenson blowing in James’ ear, Pacers president Larry Bird replied, “Yes I am.”
The ear incident wasn’t the only trick Stephenson pulled to try to gain a psychological advantage. He attempted to eavesdrop on a Miami huddle at one point, and tried to flop to get the referees to disqualify James, for which he received a $10,000 fine the next day.
Bird’s opinion of Stephenson is the most important, because he’s the one who will ultimately decide how much to offer Stephenson to stay in Indiana when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. Given his string of questionable postseason decisions, along with some play deemed by his teammates to have been selfish, it’s worth wondering if Bird is still intent on retaining Stephenson’s services.
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“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.
“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”
That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.
I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?
It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.