Stephenson wasn’t out to impress Knicks
You might think Lance Stephenson’s emotions rise another notch when he plays against the Knicks. He grew up in Brooklyn, after all, and surely followed their teams of the late nineties that battled for championships, most memorably with the Pacers.
Surely not, actually.
“I was a Lakers fan,” Stephenson said following the Pacers 125-91 win over New York on Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I liked Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. Those were my players. And they were winning the ‘ships. That was my team right there. I didn’t care for the Knicks.”
Stephenson, in fact, never attended a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden until he joined the Pacers two seasons ago. So, all the emotion he was showing on Wednesday had nothing to do with making an impression on his boyhood team, and everything to do with who he has become as an NBA player.
“You look at him play every night and he’s got that energy,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s got that fearlessness and in-your-face kind of game.”
Stephenson finished with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting and added five rebounds, three assists and two steals. He also stood up to Knicks guard J.R. Smith when the first half ended. The two jawed back and forth in front of the scorer’s table, and had to be separated by Vogel and others. Words were exchanged and Knicks assistant Jim Todd got in Vogel’s face to add more words to the mix.
A double technical fouls was assessed to Stephenson and Smith and life went on.
“We were bumping each other and it just got out of hand,” Stephenson said afterward. “Everything’s good. We were just playing ball.”
Stephenson and Smith, who is from New Jersey, go way back – all the way back to Rucker Park in Manhattan, famous for its inner-city pickup games. Bumping one another was nothing new for them.
“We used to always go at it,” Stephenson said. “We’re just bringing it to the NBA. We’ll just play hard and have no hard feelings.”
Stephenson started well. He backed down Jason Kidd for a short jump hook to give the Pacers a 4-2 lead. Midway through the first period he drew a foul from Kidd in the open court, sending the Knicks veteran to the bench.
He finished even better, thanks in part to his incident with Smith at the end of the half. He came back to score nine points in a turnover-free third quarter, by which time the game was so out of hand that he wasn’t needed in the fourth.
“What happened with J.R. got me madder,” he said. “I just wanted to hit every shot after that.”
He nearly did, hitting 3-of-4 field goals and both foul shots.
No doubt the Knicks were impressed. The Lakers, too.