INDIANAPOLIS – As Lance Stephenson strutted over to the scorer’s table, ready to re-enter Friday’s 107-104 win over the Toronto Raptors, an Indiana Pacers fan in the front row shouted to him:
“They can’t stop you, Lance! Take this game over!”
Stephenson didn’t look up. He just nodded his head in approval, as if to say, “Funny you should mention that, because that’s exactly what I’m about to do.”
With less than five minutes to go in Friday night’s game, the Pacers owned a slim five-point lead over their foes from the north. Time and time again, Indiana had tried and failed to put away Toronto in a game that saw momentum swing wildly from one side to the other throughout.
The Pacers have been in games like this before, and more than once failed to put them away.
But that wasn’t going to happen Friday. The Pacers’ peacock and his frenzied Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd weren’t going to let it happen.
It really is Stephenson’s crowd. They respond to him like no else. Every shot he hits, every rebound he rips down, the crowd cheers just a little bit louder. They dig his dancing and scream their heads off when he pounds his chest.
Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo banged up his right knee in the team’s win against the Raptors on Friday. Jim Ayello / IndyStar
When he drained a step-back 3 to put Indiana ahead 100-92 with just under five minutes to go, they went berserk.
They adore the man who dubbed himself Born Ready. They are enchanted by his swashbuckling bravado, and their love fuels him.
Less than 30 seconds after he ignited the crowd with his first 3, he sent them into a full-scale frenzy with another. Bankers Life Fieldhouse hasn’t been louder this season than when he came off a Myles Turner screen and stepped into another trifecta, giving Indiana a 103-92 lead.
Stephenson is the modern day Samson — except he doesn’t extract his power from long locks of hair like the Biblical strongman. He draws his strength from the fans’ love. He feeds off of it.
“I get my energy from the crowd,” Stephenson said not for the first time. “When the crowd tells me, ‘Let’s go! Get it going! I just feel like this power is in me.”
Despite hitting what were probably his two biggest shots of the season, the Pacers, the fans needed him one more time.
The Raptors had rallied to score eight straight points and close within three of Indiana. It was a time for a hero to step up, and this time Victor Oladipo wasn’t there to save the day. Indiana’s leading scorer and All-Star candidate was on the bench with a knee injury.