Coach Frank Vogel especially didn't hold back, calling the mercurial young guard the team's "barometer." Basically the message was, when he plays well, the Pacers play well.
Here's exactly what Vogel said after Game 4:
"When he's bad, we typically struggle. When he's good, we're pretty darn good. I mean, that's the simplest way to put it, and it's very accurate. He's the barometer."
And here's Stephenson's line for Game 5: four points, 2-7 shooting, two assists, three turnovers and he fouled out in just 28 minutes. In other words, he struggled.
Can you guess who won?
(The Heat did, 90-79 to take a 3-2 series lead.)
So what happened?
"The two fouls [on me] early threw me off rhythm," Stephenson said. "I wasn't able to impact the first quarter. It just threw me off and I never got my rhythm back. I just need to figure out what we did wrong as a team and get ready for the next game."
"I never really got hyped, and I couldn't get aggressive," he said.
Stephenson was forced to check out in the first three minutes after picking up a pair of fouls, and like he said, never got back into the flow. He hadn't scored a point late into the fourth quarter and when he finally broke through, it came when he had switched to defend LeBron James and started bulldogging the MVP. Maybe that's what got him "hyped" a bit.
"As a competitor, you love challenges, and Lance is one of those guys who likes to talk some," LeBron said. "And I'm for it, too. I really don't start it, but if it gets started, then I love to do it. It's cool."
In a lot of ways the Pacers are in the hands of Stephenson. Which has to be a pretty terrifying thing, knowing his ability to completely spazz out and lose control. But that's the kind of player he is. Teetering on the edge of recklessness, but when he's able to harness it, you get important production.
"I'm a major part of the team," he said. "If I'm not aggressive we're not the team that we are. We're not an elite team."
You can't just pin things on Stephenson, though. His backcourt mate George Hill was even less productive, scoring one point on 0-4 shooting with three turnovers and four assists. While the Pacers were getting big nights from Paul George (27 points) and Roy Hibbert (22 points), their starting backcourt gave them next to nothing. It's been a common theme in the losses for the Pacers.
Check this: In Indiana's two wins in the series, Stephenson is averaging 15.0 points on 48.1 percent shooting with 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists to only one turnover. In the three losses that's 6.0 points on 22.2 percent shooting with 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists to 2.3 turnovers.
And here's George Hill: Two wins, 18.5 points on 47.6 percent shooting, 5.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 turnovers. In the three losses, 8.3 points on 30.4 percent shooting, 1.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.3 turnovers.
Barometer almost isn't even enough for Stephenson's apparent importance, and Hill's too. They're the X-factors, the keys, the things that are going to make the difference for the Pacers.
"I have to do a better job of getting Lance and George going," Vogel said.
Said Roy Hibbert on Stephenson: "He's going to have to accept that challenge right there. Paul is doing a great job day in and day out. It goes for everybody. I'm going to have to accept that challenge of guarding the paint and getting out to Haslem, and Lance is going to have to accept that challenge to go out there and play defense on the top player, the best player in the NBA, the MVP. So if he has that opportunity again, he's going to have to step up and do it and we have to have his back."
It's a dicey game the Pacers play relying on Stephenson so much. It's not necessarily by design, but without any real horse to just point at to carry them, like Hibbert said, he has to step up. Because if he's bad, well, then you know what happens.