Lance Stephenson put himself and his Indiana Pacers in a no-win situation Monday night.
And to make sure the game was over, LeBron James went all mind over matter whenever and wherever he could where the talkative Indiana Pacers guard was concerned. All that is to say the four-time league MVP was in such a mindset, no matter what Stephenson or any of his Indiana Pacers even dreamed of doing in hopes of corralling him really wasn’t going to matter, as evidenced by the Heat’s wire-to-wire 102-90 Game 4 victory.
Humor me here to the point of setting aside James’ 32 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, for mere numbers do a disservice to The King’s total impact. Far more than any of that, it was the tone he set in his teammates’ hearts and minds, and the way he solidified it all with the look in his own eyes.
Believe it or not, LeBron James seems to see his own immortality, legendary status in the form of propelling his Heat to the point of playing for the chance to become the first NBA team over the last near two decades besides Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers to lead a team to a league three peat. In accomplishing that, the Heat would also join the Celtics and the Lakers as the only franchises in NBA history to play in four straight finals.
Sense the added motivation here? James wants what all the greatest of his contemporaries, all those who he is most often directly compared to, already have. And if that alone isn’t motivation enough, he has Lance Stephenson.
Mere hours before James went crazy on the Pacers, the ever-rambunctious Stephenson doubled down on his brand of lunacy, namely to the tune of lambasting and, yes by extension, motivating the 10-time All-Star by labeling him weak for so much as even responding to all nonstop trash talking.
“I really don’t have a reaction,” James told reporters prior to the start of Game 4 and going out and showing all the world just how much all the nonsense really annoyed him. “When you’re doubted or people don’t believe in your abilities, you can use it as motivation.”
Right, just what a four-time MVP and two-time defending champion needs, more reason to dig deeper and strive harder to win and excel. But Lance Stephenson gave him that, and true to the spirit of being Lance Stephenson, he wasn’t about to try too hard to take it back.
“I was trying to get in his head,” Stephenson reasoned. “I don’t mind it, I don’t care how LeBron feels. I’m up for any challenge. I love it when people challenge me, I like to bring out the best in people. When I talk junk, it makes me happier in my job. I like the challenge, I like to force myself to do my job. I can take the heat.”
But can he really? Miami now leads the series 3-1, with no sign at all Lance Stephenson understands when you do what he’s been doing on the regular to the likes of LeBron James and the defending champs, no less, you make all your teammates’ jobs that much harder.
And gifted as he may be, Born Ready isn’t about to dethrone the champs all by his lonesome.