Lance Dances His Way to Triple-Double

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by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

December 22, 2013

Lance Stephenson turned in another spike-the-punch bowl performance Sunday, one that lifted teammates and fans alike out of their seats in celebration, produced another triple-double and was the highlight of the Pacers' 106-79 victory over Boston.

But it came with the asterisk of excessive celebration, pelvic thrusts of the sort that got Elvis banned from network television and would have drawn penalty flags in the NFL. One came after ringing up his 10th assist and the other after hitting a three-pointer with 4:44 left to complete the triple-double, his third of the season. Those displays either added to the fun or detracted from the game, depending on which demographic is judging. Regardless, they stole some of the spotlight from teammates, angered at least one Celtic and almost certainly will bring a warning from the head coach, if not the team president.

The Pacers will have to take the good with the bad from their 23-year-old jolt of adrenaline, and, let's face it, so far the positives outweigh the negative, and the thrills outweigh the annoyances by such a comfortable margin that any mildly inappropriate gesture will quickly be forgotten and forgiven.

What team wouldn't accept a couple of dance floor moves that can be seen any night of the week on prime-time television from someone who contributes 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 35 minutes? It was Stephenson's third triple-double of the season, with 55 games still to play. Only one player in the NBA history of the Pacers franchise has accumulated more in one season – Detlef Schrempf with four in 1992-93. Vern Fleming also had three in 1987-88.

“It was funny to me, man,” David West said, smiling widely. “I don't know … that stuff doesn't bother me. I don't know how people take it, but that's Lance. You have to expect the unexpected with him sometimes.”

The unexpected is that Stephenson is having a season that is starting to inspire rumbles about a possible selection to the All-Star Game. He's averaging 13 points while hitting 48 percent of his field goal attempts, 6.7 rebounds and a team-high five assists. He's also providing unique intangibles – energy, mostly – for the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

So, Stephenson will likely get off with a warning from the authorities.

“We want to do everything with class and respect,” coach Frank Vogel said. “That's who we are.

“I talk to our guys every day about not just winning, but winning the right way. Winning with class and respect. You never want to disrespect an opponent.”

Team president Larry Bird, the man who took a chance on Stephenson and paid him special attention throughout his first three NBA seasons, no doubt agrees. Bird told Pacers.com last week that he hasn't talked with Stephenson much this season because he hasn't felt the need, but he might very well be feeling the need now. Bird, remember, was the coach who told point guard Mark Jackson to shelve his shimmy back in the late nineties.

The problem with suggestive gesticulations is that they can offend some fans and motivate some opponents. The NBA is a breeding ground for karma, and anything interpreted as an insult has a way of coming back to haunt a player or team.

“Of course we got mad,” Celtics forward Jeff Green said afterward. “That's not basketball. He made great plays, but at the end of the day you make a great play, you get back down the other end. We'll see him again.”

Stephenson said he expects to hear from Vogel, but claimed no malicious intent.

“It just came with the flow of the game,” he said. “I was trying to entertain the crowd. I was so much into the game, it just came out naturally. I didn't mean to do it, it just came with the flow of the game.

“I don't go into the game saying, 'When I make this shot I'm going to do this dance.' It just comes out. When I make a shot, sometimes I'm surprised. I'm like, Wow. So I'm like congratulating myself.”

The Pacers on the whole are as polished, polite and professional as any team in franchise history. Stephenson is the rambunctious younger brother, the class clown who injects attitude and energy into the group. They appreciate that, and it shows. On one of Stephenson's assists, he fed Danny Granger for a three-pointer on the left wing, and was practically shouting in Granger's face as Granger let the shot go. When it went in, the two laughed and slapped palms. Later, when Stephenson hit the three-pointer that completed his handiwork, his teammates were doing the wave on the bench.

“He definitely keeps us on our toes, and he keeps things light,” West said. “He's able to … like he did tonight … just do something. We're going to be talking about it on the plane (to Brooklyn, for Monday's game). It's just who he is.”

But not all of who he is. West also described Stephenson as “maturing.” Stephenson made a couple of strategic errors early in the game that drew corrections from teammates, “and he responded the right way.”

It also might be worth mentioning that Stephenson is the only player who has a team photo taped to his locker stall. There's no doubt he loves being a member of the group, appreciates the faith Bird and others have showed in him, and wants to remain with the Pacers after he becomes a free agent next summer.

So, as far as his teammates are concerned, Lance can dance.

“Put him on Dancing with the Stars and let him get his groove on,” Paul George said.