Over the course of the majority of the first half of the season, Lance Stephenson’s improved play was a huge reason that the Pacers got off to such a strong start. He was a triple-double threat on seemingly a nightly basis, and played under control and within his team’s system.
By the time Indiana’s season was over following Friday’s blowout Game 6 loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, Stephenson had gone rogue, and had resorted to tactics that had little to do with basketball in the final two games of the series.
Pacers president Larry Bird condemned Stephenson’s odd decision to blow in the ear of LeBron James in Game 5, and head coach Frank Vogel expressed a similar sentiment following the whole host of things that Stephenson tried to do to mess with his opponent in Game 6.
“It’s tough to say,” Vogel said, when asked if Stephenson’s antics hurt more than they helped. “I don’t think it’s ever good … what’s everybody call it? Tug on Superman’s cape. I don’t think that’s ever good. But I’ll take Lance Stephenson’s competitive edge. Like I said, I just don’t think it’s good to tug on the cape.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wouldn’t even discuss Stephenson afterward, saying only, “We’re playing for something much bigger than that guy” when the subject was broached.
Stephenson showed he can play this year, and could be a real asset to a team with the right amount of veteran leadership in the locker room capable of keeping him in check. He also showed why general managers around the league will be extremely leery of handing him a high-dollar, long-term contract in free agency this summer.
Apparently, all it takes is a little public discussion of LeBron James‘ “broken” jump shot to get him back on balance and knocking down the three ball — he was 4-of-6 from deep Wednesday.
Then again J.R. Smith was 7-of-13, Kyrie Irving 4-of-5, and as a team the Cavaliers knocked down a record 25 threes — while shooting 55.6 percent — as they wiped the floor with the Hawks in Game 2.
In case you’re curious where the Cavs were hitting from, here’s the team’s shot chart.
The Houston Rockets aren’t in any rush to hire a new head coach, preferring to interview a wide range of candidates to find the right one. Jeff Van Gundy has been widely believed to be at the top of their list, now that Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks are off the market, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting another name that has entered the mix: Mike D’Antoni, who last held a head coaching job from 2012 to 2014 with the Lakers and currently serves as the Sixers’ lead assistant.
The Pacers, meanwhile, haven’t made a final decision on Frank Vogel’s future with the team, but all signs seem to point to him getting let go in the next few days. And if that happens, Stein reports that Vogel will also be on Houston’s list of candidates.
Given the Rockets’ massive drop-off on the defensive end this season, Vogel would seem to be a better fit than D’Antoni. But it sounds like the Rockets aren’t close to finding a replacement for J.B. Bickerstaff, although it would make sense to have a new coach in place by next month’s draft.
On Monday, the Hawks played the Cavaliers close and even led in the fourth quarter, leading plenty of optimism that Game 2 would be equally competitive, that the Hawks had something to build on.
The Cavs dominated from the start on Wednesday, with a 123-98 final score that was far closer than the game actually was — the Cavs led 74-36 at the half and led by as much as 38 at one point in the second half.
The Cavs also hit 25 three-pointers, which is the all-time record for a single game — regular season or playoffs. J.R. Smith hit seven of them, along with four each from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and three for Kevin Love.
18 of Cleveland’s threes came in the first half, also a playoff record, and this was all Atlanta could do:
That’s the kind of night it was for the Hawks, who now trail 2-0 in the series as it heads back to Atlanta.
LeBron James has always been an incredible passer. In the midst of the Cavs’ Game 2 beatdown of the Hawks, he zipped this one-handed beauty into the paint to Kyrie Irving, who kicked it out to Kevin Love for a corner three:
The three was just one of the 18 Cleveland hit in the first half, which set an NBA playoff record.