Lance Stephenson And The Indiana Pacers’ T.I. Problem

Floyd Mayweather showing up courtside for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals was a sign for the Miami Heat and LeBron James. If T.I. shows up in Indy for Game 5 decked out in navy blue and gold, I wouldn’t be surprised.

By now you’ve probably heard about T.I. and Floyd Mayweather’s little Memorial Day Weekend scuffle. Allegedly, T.I. tried to slug Floyd Mayweather over Instagram photos of his wife in what can only be described as a groupie huddle. It’s a tale as old as Helen of Troy. Except T.I. was feeling himself and personally confronted the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer and channeled his inner Kimbo Slice shouting at him, “You do it in the ring. I do it in the streets.”

T.I.’s willingness to risk getting memorialized as a modern day Mitch Green in defense of his marriage was admirable. But not wise. T.I. escaped without two black eyes, but according to Mayweather, this was the second time T.I. had confronted him. Third time could be the charm.

Anger clouds judgment, but for irrationally confident individuals, it has an unexpected side effect. The Clippers ongoing saga is a direct result of Donald Sterling directing his insecurities toward Magic Johnson and getting clobbered by Commissioner Adam Silver as a result.

The Eastern Conference Finals features its own T.I.-Mayweather marquee. This is the third consecutive year Stephenson and James have crossed playoff paths. Indy could use the Rubberband Man as a rallying cry for their need to bounce back from their pummeling at Miami's hands.

In the 90s, Patrick Ewing’s Knicks were THE fringe-championship team of the 90s. In the 2000s it was Sacramento and Phoenix. Each team had a more accomplished, adversary.

Sac-Town kept getting a smaller plate at the NBA table because the Shaq and Kobe Lakers were taking the Western Conference’s lunch and carrying their smorgasbord of titles back to Staples and Phoenix kept getting its chain snatched by San Antonio.

Reggie Miller was Jordan’s closest equal in mouthing off to scoring ratio, but John Starks was the Lance Stephenson of his day. James may be the closest proximity to a contemporary Jordan-level heavyweight while Indiana’s Lance Stephenson was raised in the Big Apple during Starks’ heyday.  Indiana’s inferiority complex mimics Starks as do Stephenson’s overt attempts to compensate.

Stark continuously instigated and habitually stomped all over Miller and Jordan’s couches in head head-to-head only to wind up getting swatted. Stephenson talks more noise than his doppleganger Smokey from Friday, but against James, he’s been reduced to 230 pounds of hot air.

The Stephenson and James beef goes back to 2012 when Stephenson was essentially a glorified towel boy on the Pacers bench giving James the trademark Reggie Miller choke taunt after the MVP bricked a pair of freebies from the charity stripe to put the Heat into a 2-1 hole.

"Lance Stephenson? You want a quote about Lance Stephenson?" James said after his 22-point Game 3 I 2012. "I'm not even going to give him the time. Knock it off."

James parried Stephenson’s verbal jabs with a 40-point outburst while King’s Guard henchman Dexter Pittman tattooed Stephenson’ s neck in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

It’s never wise to aim at the King’s head unless you’re 100 percent sure you have him down for the count. While Stephenson shadowboxes between gamedays, James has been pulling his punches and attacking during regulation

Stephenson tried to rile up James again on Sunday resulting in a repeat of recent playoff history.

"To me, it's a sign of weakness," Stephenson boasted. "[People] used to say that to me. I'm going to do something to get you mad. Now he's trying to do it to me. I feel like there's a weakness and I feel like I'm doing something right to get underneath his skin."

It was a dramatic departure from his post-Game 1 emotions when he discussed calming down his antics. Stephenson had already stoked a fire in James during 3 which prompted the four-time MVP to get more demonstrative as he showed up Indiana for 26 points.

After toying with Stephenson through games 1, 2 and 3, Stephenson poked a sleeping bear and instead of getting underneath James’ epidermis, allowed the champ into his head. The result was something out of Martin’s surprise charity boxing match against Tommy Hearns. The Pacers are bruised up and staring out of a 3-1 hole.

Stephenson can drop pre-game bars with reporters like Nas on wax, but dropping buckets was a futile activity as cerebral beat bluster in Game 4.

One minute into the second quarter, Stephenson was already growing roots on the bench, with a bagel in his scorer’s box. Conversely, James bullied his way to the rim throughout the first half, and the Heat never trailed. 

Stpehenson missed his first free throw of the night as time whittled away late in the third quarter, while James missed an opportunity to gesture towards Stephenson with a retaliatory choke signal. Stephenson made his second attempt, the first of his nine garbage time points.

Two possessions later, James curled from the left corner, caught an inbounds pass dribbling right and drained a fallaway trey from the right corner with David West draped all over him.

Stephenson is in the midst of his career apotheosis during a contact year, however, he may have taken the elevator to the wrong floor when he decided to go at James’ head.

Watching James rally past Stephenson has been analogous to Jordan willing the Bulls to a three-peat past Starks and over the Harold Minor of faux- Jordan Stopper’s Gerald Wilkins.

The most recent regular season was Stephenson’s come-up. Perhaps this was the second time in his career that we bestowed him with a little more praise than he was ready for because James lassoed Stephenson and yanked him down to Earth.  

Since scoring 42 points and collecting 17 dimes during the first two games of the series, Stephenson has scored 19 and served up nine assists since.

Stephenson is just the manifestation of the Pacers’ collective T.I. problem.

Clifford Harris must have read into his own hype a little too much and nearly ended with in him getting Mayweather’s autograph on his chin.

Likewise, the Pacers are too mercurial and impulsive for an NBA champion. Not only has their offense been a complete enigma during long droughts, but Paul George doesn’t seem to possess the next level as an offensive playmaker and Roy “Agent Zero” Hibbert isn’t taking advantage of the mismatch presented to him near the rim. While the Pacers are being forced to convert high-degree of difficulty attempts into points, Miami is creating turnovers into backbreaking transition points.

The Pacers are throwing a shotput at the rim while the Heat are racing their 5×94 relay team up and down the court.

Most importantly, Dwyane Wade, James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen have shown veteran steadiness and compusure in adversity throughout business relationship besides the championship christenings. They didn’t panic late in Game 2 or when they trailed by 17 in the second quarter of Game 3.

It’s a trait that Indiana doesn’t possess in their roster DNA. They’re young, brash and temperamental. Indiana’s been seeking this rematch for over a year and they got more than they bargained for. No one more than Stephenson.

The Lincoln High School phenom talks a big game over microphones, but he can’t walk at the same time. King James is doing his thing on the hardwood. Stephenson should stop trying to be Richard Sherman, listen, be silent and take note.

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