Change of shoes and a talk from Butler inspire Stephenson’s second half
Pacers guard Lance Stephenson was the difference in the Pacers’ 99-82 win over the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Stephenson started the game wearing special red shoes in support of the NBA’s “Live Healthy Week” campaign. From Jan. 3rd to the 10th, players across the league will wear special shooting shirts and they are allowed to sport other red gear, like shoes, wristbands or headbands.
After having what he called “a bad first half,” Stephenson went to his locker and put on his usual navy, white and gold AND1 sneakers (pictured right) before going to the video room for the team’s usual halftime session. (Stephenson is the only NBA player who has a shoe deal with AND1.)
“I did that tonight and I feel like it helped me,” he said after finishing with 19 points, six rebounds and four assists. “It’s a mental thing. I feel like when I switch shoes, it’s a new beginning.”
A second-half turnaround was exactly what the Pacers needed and Stephenson helped get them going. He scored eight of their first 14 points in the third quarter on four field goals. And it wasn’t as simple as shots finally falling. He was penetrating into the paint and outmuscling Eric Gordon. Three of those four early buckets were layups.
“I think I can get to the basket on anybody,” said Stephenson. “I got the quickness and I got the body to hit the big man and hit the layup. I just try to use my advantages when I go to the hole.”
Professional athletes believe in all kinds of superstitions. From the way they prepare for a game to the order in which they dress — you better believe it’s important.
As Stephenson packed for their flight to Cleveland, Indiana’s opponent Sunday night, he said he’ll still wear a red pair … just a different one.
“I’m going to throw (tonight’s pair) away somewhere outside,” he joked. “I ain’t going to wear that one.”
His elevated play wasn’t all about the shoes. It’s not that easy. The eldest player on the team, Rasual Butler, got in his ear at halftime.
“I felt like I wasn’t playing to my abilities,” said Stephenson, “so ‘Sual came up to me and was like, ‘Hey, you got to pick it up, man. You’re not yourself.’ So I decided in the second half I was going to pick it up and play better.”
Butler perfectly fits the locker room mold and he’s always looking to help in any way he can. It’s an extension of coach Frank Vogel’s motto: “Togetherness.”
“I felt like we as a team were lacking a little bit of energy and I knew that he was the one guy, along with like Ian Mahinmi or C.J. [Watson] coming off the bench,” said Butler, whose locker is just to the right of Stephenson’s.
“In the starting lineup, I just felt like he was the one that could lift us a little bit. He energizes us when he plays well because some of the plays he makes gets the crowd into the game, gets other guys into the game. I felt like there was another level that we could get to and he’s one of those guys, along with Paul [George], who can do that for us.”
Whether it was the shoes, Butler firing him up or simply Stephenson treating the second half like a new page, the Pacers want to see more of that Lance. His teammates enjoy the electricity that he brings to the court, and often times they need it. The 23-year-old is quick to point out after games that it’s just basketball, and he wants to have fun out there.