The Clippers lost but Lance Stephenson looked like ‘himself’


The Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Indiana Pacers, but Lance Stephenson actually looked like ‘himself’ again.

A year ago, saying Lance Stephenson looked like himself wouldn’t require quotation marks. But it’s not a year ago, and the idea of Stephenson being himself means he’s up to his nightly tricks of being a bad NBA player — funny how much can change in a calendar year.

But last night, against his former team in the Indiana Pacers, Stephenson looked like himself, the braggadocious wing player who could do a little bit of everything, even if doing nothing particularly great, aka the jack of all trades, master of none skill set that lent to the New York native that once averaged 14 points (on 49 percent shooting), 7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game; for reference, only two players in the NBA this season are averaging at least 14-7-4 on 49 percent shooting, teammate Blake Griffin and LeBron James.

The numbers? A team-high 19 points in 28 minutes, hitting 8 of 11 attempts from the field and and 3 of 4 three-point attempts, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal. Good for any player, but after a year of what Stephenson experienced as a Charlotte Hornet, 19-3-3-1 classifies as great for the two-guard.

Stephenson’s non-three-point makes may seem simple, but it’s a facet the Clippers lacked last season, helping lead to their playoff failures. Simply put, no one on the team (Austin Rivers could do it but wasn’t good at it; Jamal Crawford also, but prefers the pull-up, playground jumper) made an effort and possessed the ability for scores like this:

Or a non-Chris Paul guard/wing who prefers to make plays like this on the perimeter, and certainly no one to match the accompanying flair to is packaged with any positive Stephenson pass:

The 3-of-4 shooting from three? The numbers tell us that won’t sustain, but everything else? Steps for Stephenson to build on, because when Stephenson plays like this — or close — there’s no player on the Clippers who can replicate what he does in totality outside of Chris Paul, and it puts into perspective why the Clippers opted to move on Matt Barnes‘ stability in exchange for volatility and ceiling > floor.

Stringing along positive games in a row, it makes you wonder how Stephenson, in a game without Chris Paul for the entire game and J.J. Redick, who left after 18 seconds of playing time due to injury, can reach the final buzzer with only 28 minutes, nine minutes less than Jamal Crawford who was inferior on both ends of the floor in comparison (-cough-DocRivers-cough-), and how such could transpire in a game without the starting point guard, leaving Stephenson to be the team’s best non-Blake Griffin playmaker, a factor that would allow less usage and exertion of energy from Griffin on the offensive end.

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Even with the arrogance being a turnoff, it’s fun to see Lance be the guy that pissed fans off two years ago, given its much easier to feel this way when he’s on your favorite team rather than opposite of it. But the confidence is coming back, his teammates seem to enjoy playing with him, and the group of veterans, stars, and superstars, like Clippers fans, are hoping to see more of this guy as the season progresses. And with injury to the starting backcourt, if the Clippers want to maintain an above-.500 record as they prepare for an Eastern Conference-heavy next seven games (Magic, Wolves, Bucks, Bulls, Nets, Pistons, Bucks) there may not be a better time than now for more of Lance. The benefits of such? Possibly the wing the Clippers have so desperately needed in their attempt for a championship under Doc Rivers, or close to because expecting him to shape shift into the former in 82 games would be placing unfair expectations on Stephenson.

But it’s a step. A step above what was seen in the preseason and early regular season, when Lance looked to lag much slower than those he was defending, and offensively, unable to create space and drive past defenders for shots at the rim.

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Now let’s see if he can hit the next step and make it a habit to be a good player, doing it in a way he hasn’t done since Indiana. Because the Clippers — which may be very telling of their situation and status as contenders — need it.