LeBron James is en route to eliminating the Indiana Pacers from the playoffs for what feels like the millionth time.
Whether he's on the Miami Heat or Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron continues to be a thorn in Paul George's side. Lance Stephenson was brought back, in part, to help pluck said thorn out, but it's been a no go as the Pacers are down two games to none.
Stephenson has to help lead the charge against King James if the Pacers are going to have any chance. Lance admitted as much himself after Game 2, stating that Indiana needs to limit the amount of time LeBron controls the ball.
“You just gotta tame [LeBron],” Stephenson said, according to Michael Singer of USA TODAY. “He’s playing so well right now. His jump shot has really improved. Just gotta get into him, make him pass the ball. Make his teammates make decisions.”
It's surely easier said than done, but it's a sound strategy. Forcing LeBron to play more off-ball likely means more Kyrie Irving is to follow, but when picking poisons it's best to avoid James in this scenario.
Paul George was critical of Stephenson allowing his emotions affect both his own play and that of his teammates. While George demanded better leadership, Lance painted a picture that Indiana was allowing him room to also just be himself.
“Just letting me play, letting me play without thinking,” Stephenson said of his role with the Pacers.
“Think a lot of teams had me playing, just thinking too much. I got here, just be yourself. Let me play through mistakes. Don’t sub me for every little mistake. They’re just letting me be myself.”
Finding the perfect balance between letting loose and being "himself" and also being the leader Indiana needs flanking George will be key if Indiana wants any hope of avoiding a first-round elimination. Even then, it may not be enough.
It's also a tall task to expect Stephenson and the Pacers to solve out such a complex problem at this point in the year. Lance joined the team so late in the season there wasn't as much of an opportunity for him to be fully integrated.
Focusing on being the LeBron-pester that he once was, above all else, has to be Lance's singular goal in life for the next week or so. Should he do that, the Pacers might just have a fighting chance as the series shifts to Indiana.