Lance Stephenson, the lone Pacers player to struggle amid the offensive onslaught, didn’t wait until the postgame locker room to explain himself. He made it clear to everyone within earshot during an in-game dead ball.
“I’m too hyped!” he shouted to nobody and everybody. “Too hyped!”
If that’s the worst problem the Pacers are going to have this season — other than a defense that clearly needs a lot of work — they aren’t going to be the team they’re widely predicted to be. They aren’t going to win 30-35 games. They aren’t going to be hopelessly out of contention for a playoff spot. They aren’t going to need yet another makeover after the season.
Hyped? Their offense was in hyperdrive in their 140-131 victory over Brooklyn at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, scoring more points than in any game since Nov. 9, 2010, when they scored 144 against Denver. They shared the ball, with eight players scoring in double figures and no player attempting more than 16 field goals. They ran as promised, scoring 28 fastbreak points, attacked the basket for 66 points in the paint and showed good judgment when it counted most.
They even shot 52 percent, despite an anxious Stephenson hitting just six of his 10 attempts.
Coming off a season when a laid-back and underachieving team failed to play with consistent energy — at least until Stephenson arrived with six games left in the regular season to inject a shot of adrenaline — coach Nate McMillan will be the last to complain about an excited player. Especially in the wake of an electrifying victory.
“I wanted them to be (hyped),” he said. “Like I always say, I’d much rather say ‘Whoa’ than ‘Giddyup.'”
McMillan’s goal this season, as it was last season, is for his team to get up 90 or more shots per game and average at least 110 points. He also wants to hold opponents to 42 percent field goal shooting. His reconfigured team, which has basically been speed-dating since it gathered for informal workouts in August and zipped through a four-game preseason, made a mockery of the offensive goals, taking 102 shots and scoring 13 more points than in any regulation game last season.
The defense fell short, permitting the Nets 48 percent shooting and far too many layups out of their halfcourt offense. Maybe that will serve the immediate purpose of keeping them humble, and give the coaches something to harp on.
Then again, they seemed humble enough in the postgame locker room. They weren’t buying into the hype of one victory over a team not regarded as a playoff contender. They weren’t acting as if they plan to average 140 points and kick defense to the curb.
“I know (assistant coach) Dan Burke is kicking himself right now,” said Darren Collison, who was exceptional with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting, 11 assists and two turnovers. “He’s worked so hard with us. We have to do much better. We’ll take care of that.”
Asked before the game who his go-to guy will be on clutch, late-game possessions, McMillan said that’s still to be determined. There’s no Paul George, a multi-year All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, to turn to. That might turn out to be a strength, however. This team, unlike last season, is shaping up as a democracy, and that should be the primary takeaway from Wednesday’s victory, which produced one of the more intriguing box scores in recent memory.
Again, eight players in double figures, with the starters all scoring between 14 and 22 points and Stephenson, Cory Joseph, and Domantas Sabonis all making substantive contributions off the bench — especially Sabonis, who hit all seven field goal attempts and grabbed seven rebounds, four of them off the offensive rim.
“It’s not a one-man show,” Collison said. “We have a lot of guys on this team willing to play unselfish. Let’s keep it that way. We don’t have a superstar player. We’re going to do this together as a team.”
That applies to leadership, too. McMillan passed out a list of the team members and had each player check two boxes for captain, without voting for himself. Thaddeus Young, the 10-year veteran who is just 29 years old, and Turner, the two-year veteran who is just 21, won the election. Neither, however, is proclaiming himself the leader.
A leader, but not the leader.
That’s especially impressive for Turner, who eagerly stepped into a leadership role the moment the trade that sent George to Oklahoma City was announced. It wouldn’t be surprising for an ambitious young player who happens to be the only team member who was on the roster two seasons ago, to overstep his bounds and assume too much authority. Turner’s having none of that, however.
“It’s funny to be called a leader,” said Turner, who turned in a controlled performance with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocked shots against the Nets. “We have a team of leaders. DC (Collison) is a vet, he knows what he’s doing, Vic (Oladipo) obviously has been on a few teams and seen different situations. Domas (Sabonis), even he comes out there and talks.
“We have a team full of guys who come out and have each other’s ear.”
As hyped as he was, Stephenson might have put on the best display of democracy. Earmarked to finish most games, he was pulled after missing a couple of forced shots that allowed the Nets to pull within four points with more than two minutes remaining. He didn’t flash a hint of disappointment or anger, simply walking to the bench and slapping hands with teammates.
“Oh, no,” he said. “I know the guy coming in is going to uplift us. That’s the confidence I have in each guy on this team. My goal this year is to be positive and uplift my teammates. If you have that spirit I feel like positive things are going to happen, no matter how bad or good you’re playing.”
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