Emotions can’t, and never will be removed from professional sports. That’s a given, even with leagues cracking down on unsportsmanlike penalties. Guys are still going to express themselves, and get into the heat of the moment.
That’s exactly what transpired for Lance Stephenson on Wednesday, as he was ejected with 5:01 remaining in the fourth quarter, after making one of the most monumental offensive plays in the game.
Using an aggressive screen by Roy Hibbert, Stephenson found a path to the rim that only had veteran Udonis Haslem standing in the way. One wicked crossover to the left, and he was on his way to finishing a difficult left-handed layup while falling to the floor.
The level of intensity flowing through Stephenson’s body will remain unmatched until these two meet again under the roof of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. After the play, he rushed to his feet, walking back toward his team. However, not before an epic stare to Dwyane Wade, in the midst of yelling “what!?” back to the three-time NBA Champion. He finished off his stunt with undisclosed words to himself, flexing and just living in the moment.
Wade, smirking back at Stephenson to make the undisputed greatest GIF of All-Time, decided to snap into desperation mode.
With his team trailing by four, 76-72, and the atmosphere getting out of hand, Wade threw his hands in the air and led the Miami Heat in a quick request for the referees to issue Stephenson a technical foul.
First-grade technique granted, I guess, as Stephenson was hit with his second technical foul, thus removing him from crunch time of the most monumental game of the regular season.
Stephenson’s first technical foul, which occurred in the third quarter, was a result of a bit of shoving match between himself and — you guessed it — Wade. After briefly grabbing Mario Chalmers’ arm on a play, Stephenson proceeded to get in the face of Chalmers and spark the madness. Wade, protecting his teammate, tried to shove Stephenson away from the dispute. That didn’t bode well with Stephenson, who let Wade know with a little grab and push that he wasn’t pleased.
The call was a double technical foul, and Wade certainly deserved one for issuing the first physical shove. And, make no mistake about it, Stephenson would’ve still received his first one there if there was no physical approach.
Because the NBA has made it publicly known that referees are not set to tolerate any type of extra taunting. If you recall, LeBron James’ posterization over Jason Terry last season warranted a technical foul, due to James’ added activity at the end — standing over Terry, gloating, or trying to send an unnecessary message.
Plenty of other players have also received taunting technicals for less than what Lance did. Essentially, the league has increasingly over the years tried to make it clear to players that you can yell and holler and flex after a big play, but you cannot do it directly towards a player on the opposite team no matter how innocent it can look to the audience at home.
Both of Lance’s technical fouls share something in common: Wade was also guilty of unpopular tactics, the most glaring being the quick protest for Stephenson to be ejected, knowing very well that it would benefit his team on both ends of the floor. Without Stephenson, Indiana loses their largest supplier of energy, and their hardest worker on a play by play basis. Miami was able to enter the final minute of action neck and neck with the Pacers, so Wade and company would likely pull the same trick out of the book if it occurred again.
Both parties were in the wrong, and the refs have a hard task on their hands as it is.
Stephenson clearly earned his two technicals. And we know that racking up two means you get to view the rest of the game backstage.
He owned up to his mistakes after the team joined him in the locker room.
Frank Vogel gave his assessment. “I didn’t see the play, but Lance can’t get himself kicked out of the game,” Vogel said. “He’s too important to us. He can’t let it happen. Period.”
When asked if he was concerned about Lance’s actions being potentially more damaging down the road, Vogel admitted that “Yeah, it’s a concern. He and I spoke — very sternly — about his importance. We’re all too important. We can’t get ejected from a big game. Period”
David West had a similar talk after the game.
“We addressed it after the game,” West said. “He’s gotta mature. In that moment — where he’s rolling — he gets a couple big baskets for us. We need him. We’re better with him on the floor. He’s gotta grow. He’s gotta let some of the things that he does — his antics — have gotta be eliminated, particularly at this stage. He got a tech, and they hit a three, and it could have cost us the game.”
Stephenson has now collected 14 technical fouls on the season, which is just two away from a one-game suspension. If he receives a 16th within the Pacers’ last 10 games, he’ll be sitting out while the team looks to officially secure the number one seed — the beauty they’ve expressed as a need for the playoffs. With a three-game lead over the Heat in the Eastern Conference standings, it’s not far-fetched to believe Indiana could stumble in the weeks ahead (especially with the inconsistent efforts of late) and require Stephenson’s fiery talents.
So, just play the game, Lance. Excitement and expression are features you just can’t buy with a player, it’s a natural gift that generally helps the team excel.
Just keep in moderation, and eliminate all taunting. Rule book 101.
Tim Donahue contributed reporting to this article.