The most recent COVID surge has decimated NBA rosters and taken the steam out of some of the league’s marquee matchups over the last couple of months, but it’s also led so some incredible feel-good stories due to the extra opportunity given to players who might not normally see the court.
The latest example came from Lance Stephenson, who signed a 10-day contract with the Indiana Pacers on New Year’s Day and, on Wednesday, suited up for his first home game in Indianapolis since 2018. In Kyrie Irving’s first game of the season for the Brooklyn Nets, Stephenson absolutely stole the show in the first quarter, coming off the bench to score 20 points in just over six minutes on 8-for-9 shooting, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
Stephenson became the first player in NBA history to score 20 points off the bench in the first quarter, according to Pacers reporter Pat Boylan, who noted that the quarter-by-quarter stats are only searchable to the 1996-97 season. They were also the most first-quarter points by a Pacer in franchise history.
Stephenson kept the Gainbridge Fieldhouse crowd entertained with his signature air guitar 3-point celebration, and unleashed a jubilant shoulder shimmy after beating the first-quarter buzzer with yet another 3-point bomb. He might have also taken a little extra pleasure in putting on the performance with many of his fellow native Brooklynites watching from home.
“I’ve been just working out two years, just waiting for this moment,” Stephenson said during a halftime interview on Wednesday. “I’m so happy to be here at home.”
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Stephenson, who played six games with the Atlanta Hawks earlier this season after two full seasons away from the NBA, is currently in his third stint with the Pacers, the team that drafted him with the 40th overall pick in 2010. He averaged a career-high 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists with Indiana during the 2013-14 season, while later having stints with the Hornets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Timberwolves and Lakers.
Stephenson’s 10-day contract is set to expire soon, and if he keeps playing like this, it’s going to be very hard for the Pacers to cut him loose.