The Raptors fan base is still buzzing over Lance Stephenson’s late-game antics on Tuesday night in Indiana.
My Twitter feed has featured a ton of questions and comments regarding whether or not Stephenson was wrong to attempt a layup with the clock ticking down and the game already in hand— and whether or not the Raptors have the right to be upset given their own teammate, Norman Powell, pulled a similar maneuver around this time last season:
Was Powell “right” in what he did last year— going for a break-away dunk in the final seconds, with his team already up 20+ points? No. He shouldn’t have done it.
However, I do see some differences in his situation compared to Stephenson’s layup:
1. Powell’s play came at a point when both teams had emptied out the bench. For youngsters and rookies that’s often their only time to see the floor, and it’s often the only time coaches get to see those players in any kind of real game situations. Hence, both teams were still playing regularly in terms of running their offence and defence per usual. As a result, Powell’s dunk came off a defensive deflection.
Could he have dribbled out the clock and not gone for a dunk though? ABSOLUTELY. Should he have dribbled out the clock? Yes. Was it some extra showmanship in the final regular season home game for Toronto? Yes. But does that make it right? No.
Yet Stephenson’s play came off a 30-40 foot outlet pass from Paul George (after PG13 grabbed a rebound), with no Raptor defender in sight. Indy had already secured the ball and iced the game. The Raptors, for their part, had conceded the game (not that it wasn’t already over anyway). And I’d be willing to bet that every Raptor and every Pacer had zero thought of Stephenson actually going for the lay-up.
We could even question why the Pacers still had George & other starters/regulars on the floor in the first-place, up double-figures with under 30 seconds to go. But to be fair, many coaches do that, including Dwane Casey. Coaches are fickle for wins!
2. Powell was a rookie.
Stephenson is a seven-year veteran player who has performed in much bigger games on a much bigger stage.
Powell, through high school and college ball, and already into the final month of his rookie NBA season, should have known the ‘unwritten rule’. But I can give a rookie a mulligan (note: It still doesn’t make it right). Stephenson certainly knows better after all these years in the league. And he knows he is/was in the wrong here, or else he wouldn’t have apologized.
Twitter is all in a tizzy: “How can Toronto be mad at this play when they did the same thing (allegedly) last year…?” is the most common question appearing in my timeline.
I can’t speak for DeMar DeRozan or P.J. Tucker or anybody in the Raptors locker room, but personally I take a man at his word. Stephenson says (perhaps like Powell on the final home play last year) he was caught up in the moment. It was his return to Indy and his first home game in front of the Pacers fans. He played into the emotion of the crowd.
Fine. I accept that. It doesn’t make it right. He still broke the ‘code’ (which the Indy announcers even noted, if you watch the video online, etc). But I accept it.
So this online debate and rage today is utterly useless in my opinion. A mistake was made, an apology was given, and both teams and their respective fans have bigger things to worry about in the final week of the season with playoff seeding changing on a nightly basis.