No single person can guard LeBron James even competently over the course of an entire game. It takes multiple skilled defenders, along with a solid team defensive strategy just to slow the game’s best player into turning in a below average performance.
The Pacers were successful against James in Game 4, limiting the league’s MVP to just 24 points on 8-of-18 shooting while playing more than 43 minutes.
Part of that had to do with Lance Stephenson, who apparently asked his head coach for at least a portion of the defensive assignment.
“He asked to guard him. He asked to guard him,’’ said Vogel, seemingly really wanting to really emphasize that. “He’s a competitor. We know Paul (George) is getting worn out a little bit guarding LeBron the whole game that he’s in there. Lance said, ‘Let me share some of the load.’’’
James was defended primarily by Paul George, just as he had been for most of the series. Sam Young spent some time on James as well, and while Stephenson was isolated against LeBron for only three of those 18 field goal attempts, James missed two, and all were strongly contested.
The first was a face-up jumper that James missed, and the next two attempts against Stephenson both came in the post. James spun baseline and tried to finish off the glass as he did a few times against George in Game 3, but as Ian Mahinmi came over late to try to get the block, he ended up with the goaltend instead.
On the final play where Stephenson was in one-on-one coverage, James again took to the low post. Stephenson was physical in defending, but got some help as James turned to make his move into the lane. Two other defenders came at James, and forced him into a difficult shot that wasn’t close.
As you might imagine, James wasn’t ready to buy into Stephenson as a lockdown defender just yet.
“If you are sitting here and talking about an individual one-on-one matchup between me and Lance Stephenson, I’m not going to harp on that,’’ James said.
Given the fact that Stephenson only defended James on three of his shot attempts, there’s no reason to do so. But it’s clear that the different looks and the team defense had an effect on James, if nothing else from a shot selection standpoint.
While James did connect on four of his seven three-point attempts, Indiana would much rather have him shooting from distance as he did in Game 4 than creating havoc inside.