Practice: McMillan on Stephenson's Role in the Offense

April 3, 2017 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan talked about how the team needs to play over its final five games and touched on Lance Stephenson's role with the team.

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Practice: McMillan on Stephenson's Role in the Offense

April 3, 2017 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan talked about how the team needs to play over its final five games and touched on Lance Stephenson's role with the team.
Apr 3, 2017  |  06:40

Practice: George on Lance's Return, Playoff Chase

April 3, 2017 - Pacers forward Paul George discusses the boost Lance Stephenson provides returning to Indiana and looks ahead to the final five games of the regular season.
Apr 3, 2017  |  02:17

Practice: Stephenson on Sunday's Debut, First Game Back at Fieldhouse

April 3, 2017 - Pacers guard Lance Stephenson discusses his first game back with the team on Sunday in Cleveland and looks forward to his home debut on Tuesday vs. Toronto.
Apr 3, 2017  |  02:09

Stephenson Brings Out the Best in George

by Mark Montieth Writer

Lance Stephenson shows up, and Paul George plays his best and most inspired game of the season. Can it really be that simple?

Absolutely, says George, who scored a season-high 43 points with nine rebounds and nine assists in Sunday's double-overtime loss at Cleveland.

"He gets all the credit," George said following the Pacers' practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday. "I'm back with my boy."

Well, then. If that's how it's going to go, the Pacers at least have justified optimism for the final five games of the regular season, five games they need to win to secure a playoff position. Stephenson's return has clearly injected a dose of adrenaline and confidence into the formerly placid Pacers, who gave Cleveland all it could handle on Sunday.

Stephenson, who signed with the Pacers late last week and joined the team for practice on Saturday in Cleveland, was predictably and admittedly rusty during his 18 minutes in Sunday's game. He hit two-of-seven shots, scored four points, grabbed three rebounds and passed out three assists.

He made a difference beyond the numbers, however. He brought energy and swagger, which in turn energized the players in the game.

"I think I learned that from not playing that much (early in his career with the Pacers)," Stephenson said. "I'm always encouraging my teammates and trying to get the best out of them and trying to push everyone. I felt the guys needed that last night."

Stephenson will become more outspoken as he gets to know his new teammates.

"I tried to hold back on the stuff I actually say," he said. "Once I get to learn everyone..."

"You know me!" George shouted, as he walked by the scrum of reporters gathered around Stephenson.

Yes, he does. That's why Stephenson made it a point to get in George's ear during Sunday's game.

"I had to smack him up," he said. "Like, 'Man, you forgot? Go at these guys!' I was just trying to push him and make him go harder. It would have been even easier if I was on the floor with him."

Stephenson — who had played 2 minutes, 5 seconds since March 8 — said he didn't get tired on Sunday, and would have played longer if he hadn't picked up five fouls. Coach Nate McMillan, however, appreciated him playing physically enough to pick up those fouls. He also appreciated Stephenson's verbal contributions.

"I think he fires Paul up," McMillan said. "He knows how to get Paul going. He's a New Yorker, so he talks a lot. I think that helps. It helps his game as well as the team. Last night, he was constantly talking on the bench and challenging guys and the team throughout the game. I think that has an impact on a team. When you're in battle like that, you know that guy has your back."

LeBron James, for one, was impressed with George's performance on Sunday. He embraced him after the game and directed an Instagram post toward him later reading, "Glad to see u back to where u belong."

Stephenson also provides defensive relief for George, with the physical ability to take on a player such as James for stretches of a game. And, he provides another player with the ability and willingness to make a play. George appreciates all of it.

"I think his competitiveness, his energy, just his excitement...I thought we felt it," he said. "As soon as he stepped into the game. And him just wanting the ball. We really haven't had guys who want the ball. He was ready. It felt like he's been with us a long time."

Not long enough to pick up all the offense, however. A good portion of Monday's practice was devoted to getting Stephenson more acclimated, but McMillan knows it's better at this late date to give Stephenson enough freedom to bring out the best parts of his game.

"Having him for 24 hours, I'm letting him go," McMillan said. "I told him, go out and make something happen. We need that energy, that fire, that toughness he brings to the floor. I haven't had him long enough to reel him in. I need to let him go. Random offense a lot of times is the best offense.

"He brings a lot of things we need."

And they'll need it immediately. The Pacers play Toronto at The Fieldhouse on Tuesday, as close to a must-win game as they've had all season. Stephenson said again on Monday he'll feel like crying when he takes the court where his best NBA memories were made, and hears firsthand the reaction of the fans who have been so enthusiastic about his return on social media.

You couldn't blame George for crying, too.

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Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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