By CLIFF BRUNT
ISL Editor/The Sports Xchange
INDIANAPOLIS — Lance Stephenson has been unpredictable throughout his NBA career.
Now, he’s steady and dependable. The guard matched a career high with 22 points to help the Indiana Pacers beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 89-74 on Saturday night.
“Lance has been our most efficient offensive player this year,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He has taken a giant step. I want to see him keep it going.”
Stephenson made 5 of 7 3-pointers and had five rebounds and three assists against Cleveland. So far this season, he leads the team in two of the statistics that best exemplify consistency – field goal percentage and minutes played. He’s averaged 36 minutes, is shooting 59 percent from the field and has made 9 of 14 3-pointers as a catalyst in the Pacers’ 3-0 start.
“I’m very comfortable and very confident,” Stephenson said. “I just try to bring energy, try to get my teammates riled up and try to make plays for others and make smart plays for myself. When we play together as a unit, the sky’s the limit.”
Paul George had 21 points and 13 rebounds and Roy Hibbert added 11 points for the Pacers.
Dion Waiters led Cleveland with 17 points, but he made just 7 of 21 shots from the field and was held to two points in the second half. Kyrie Irving scored 15 points and Anderson Varejao added 14 for the Cavaliers (1-2).
The Pacers held the Cavaliers to 35 percent shooting from the field.
Indiana shot 42 percent and outrebounded the Cavaliers 51-37.
“We just had a few too many of ‘my bads,’ or ‘my faults,’” Irving said. “That kind of adds up during the course of a game, and we can’t have that, especially against a good team like the Pacers.”
Indiana led 43-37 at halftime after the Cavaliers shot 31 percent from the floor in the first half.
The Pacers started the second half with a flourish. George drained a 3-pointer and then Hibbert scored in close to extend Indiana’s lead to 11 points.
Cleveland hung tough with a 6-0 run to close the deficit to five.
Indiana began stretching its lead again later in the quarter. George rattled in a 3-pointer from the left corner that gave the Pacers a 57-45 lead. Another 3-pointer by George pushed Indiana’s lead to 62-49 with a minute left in the quarter.
Cleveland finished the quarter with a 6-0 run to cut its deficit to 62-55.
George scored 13 points in the quarter.
“I just try to be aggressive throughout the whole game,” he said. “My game is just having a feel for what’s going on out there.”
Stephenson picked up where George left off, scoring 10 points in the first 4:14 of the fourth quarter to extend Indiana’s lead to 79-61.
“We forced them to shoot jump shots,” George said. “Everybody knows in the fourth quarter, those shots tend to be short or it’s just tough to make those in the fourth. That’s what we credit our defense on is just smothering them on the shots from the outside.”
The Pacers are happy with their fast start, but they will be tested soon. They play at Detroit on Tuesday and at home against Chicago on Wednesday.
“It’s still early,” George said. “There’s still going to be a lot of stuff that we’re going to need to continue to get better at. But we are making improvements and getting better.”
NOTES: No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett missed all eight of his shots from the field in his first two games for Cleveland and scored two only points in 28 minutes. … Pacers G George Hill sat out because of a sore left hip. C.J. Watson got his first start as a Pacer in his place. … Pacers F Danny Granger missed his third straight game because of a strained left calf. … George entered the game as the NBA’s leading scorer with 28 points per game. Hibbert entered as the league leader with 12 blocked shots in two games. … Irving made only 11-of-33 shots from the field in his first two games.