How the Pacers’ biggest LeBron troll backfired

Lance Stephenson is walking a fine line as LeBron James’ troll and the Pacers’ enigmatic energy infusion.

As displayed in the Cavaliers’ 104-100 Game 4 win on Sunday, the Indiana guard turned the fourth quarter into a borderline comedy with troll-bending antics that benefited the Pacers — and the Cavaliers toward the end of the game.

First, the good: Stephenson actually had a rather productive game coming off the bench: 11 points, six assists and two rebounds in 23 minutes. He’s hit double figures in three out of the Pacers’ four playoff games and mostly kept his ego in check. Stephenson also got James to react to his prodding, and he didn’t even have to blow in James’ ear this time. He was able to draw a technical foul after James shoved him — helped by Stephenson’s huge flop — as he was walking to the Cavs’ bench midway in the fourth quarter.

James didn’t make a huge deal about it after the game — “Lance told me a joke, I laughed, teacher caught me, now I’ve got to go see the principal. That’s what happened.” Stephenson also got one more win against James later when he wrestled a ball to get a jump-ball call.

Those were two of Stephenson’s finer moments in Game 4.

Then there were these two bone-head plays that wound up hurting the Pacers:

After the Pacers took an 83-82 lead with 10:34 left in the fourth quarter, Stephenson somehow forgot the most fundamental rule of basketball with the clumsiest — and most careless — travel in the 2018 playoffs. Not exactly the time for a mental lapse, especially with the Pacers building momentum at a crucial turn of the game.

Lastly, the quasi-headlock with 9.0 seconds left in the game. With the Pacers down 103-100, Stephenson, tried to make a play by tying up Jeff Green for a jump ball. But he went too far, and the two ended up nearly wrestling on the floor. With the game in the balance, Stephenson was corralling Green’s head before bringing him to the ground in an alligator death roll. Stephenson was called for the foul, and Green had two free throws to clinch the game.

“Honestly, it was nothing,” Green told ESPN about the foul. “I mean, I may have reacted because I’m not going to allow him to do what he did, but other than that, it’s nothing.

“He’s not going to fight. I’m not going to fight. It’s not worth it. I mean, if we wanted to fight, there’s a big-ass parking lot out there and we can fight. But at the end of the day, my job is to keep my composure, go to the free throw line, knock one down and then move on. It’s not worth it to give that extra energy to him.”

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