Lance Stephenson sat in the visitors locker room, a crowd of about ten reporters fixated on his every word on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, an arena that Stephenson knows all too well. He was the man in high-school. A highly-touted point guard from Abraham Lincoln High in Coney Island where he won four city championships at the Garden, Stephenson was the next star from the area, the one who would fill the void left by Stephon Marbury,
Ever since being drafted 40th overall by the Indiana Pacers in the 2010 draft Stephenson has had his share of trouble while a pro, but this season the Brooklyn native has played a key role in helping the Pacers reach the playoffs.
On Sunday against the Knicks, one of Indiana’s most storied rivals (“I was 9-years old, I didn’t really know much abut basketball [back then],” he says about those classic 90’s series), Stephenson stepped up for his team on the biggest stage: Madison Square Garden, just like he did in high-school.
The 6’5 guard finished with 11 points (5/9 shooting) while grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds (his first double-double of his playoff career) and making a game-high three steals and helping contain the Knicks J.R. Smith on defense. Indiana won the game 102-95.
After the game Stephenson spoke about returning to MSG.
“It felt good,” Stephenson said. “It always does in front of my family and friends. I tried to play smart and limit the mistakes. I love this building. I love playing here. Out of all the arenas … there is something about these lights that gets me energized.
“I dreamed about this day, playing in the Garden and now I’m here and I’m just trying to take advantage.”
Much like Sebastian Telfair, Stephenson has had to learn to transition from being the star of his team, to a contributing role player on a professional team. He says he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win.
“In high school I used to just go and bully everybody. Everybody is physical in the NBA and my size, so you have to be smart and you can’t force everything and that’s what I had to learn to play in the NBA.”
The Pacers stole home-court from the Knicks, and now behind the local kid’s contribution, they’ll look to quieten the raucous hometown fans in Game 2 on Tuesday.
“The Garden’s never quiet,” said Stephenson. “We’re up and they’re still talking junk trying to get in our heads. That’s New York for you. We just got to play through it, and get a W every time.”
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