What if I told you the Indiana Pacers have an unreliable shooter who will shoot you out of a game for three quarters, catch fire in the fourth, hit a dagger three right in the enemy’s face of a game that’s become closer than it needed to be, energize the crowd, and get everyone on Twitter to love him?
“But Fox,” you might be saying, “Lance Stephenson is on the Lakers now.”
Well, get ready for a Scooby-Doo ending of a reveal, because Wesley Matthews made his Pacers debut Monday, missed his first six shots, hit just 2-of-10 overall, but had his first make as a Pacer come in a huge situation late in the 99-90 win over the Hornets:
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) February 12, 2019
That shot put the Pacers back up 10 in a game that had started to get away from them (not that they were in any real danger, because Kemba Walker disappeared like he always does), and it got the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd rabid for reasons other than a bat in the rafters.
Matthews, a career 38.2 percent shooter from long range, hit 38.0 percent of his shots in Dallas before shooting a combined 4-of-17 (23.5 percent) in his last three games in New York and Indiana to drop his season percentage down to 37.1.
In other words, he’s still an efficient marksman who’s going to grow into his role in Indiana.
But the shooting energy, the starting in place of Victor Oladipo, the ability to feed off the crowd and inspire his teammates, and all those other intangibles?
Well, you could say that Matthews was born ready to play Indiana Pacers basketball.
Which, in turn, instantly makes him immune to “but stats” talk (in two games in New York, he managed a 3.0 PER and a season-long VORP/82 of -4.2, and he matched that 3.0 PER in one game last night) because he’s not there to be the primary stat-sheet stuffer—that’s what Bojan Bogdanovic and Myles Turner are for.
Besides, having Matthews available to start means that the combination of Tyreke Evans and Domantas Sabonis can do what they do best; Evans driving the lane, missing a layup, then having Domas behind him to slam home the offensive rebound, the signature play of the Pacers’ second unit.
But what’s more, we’ve got a guy who can energize Pacers Twitter, fire up the Fieldhouse, and say all the right things in postgame interviews—witness this gem told to Jeremiah Johnson on Fox Sports Indiana after the game:
Wesley Matthews on his long 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, which was his first field goal with the @Pacers: "I could feel all of Indiana willing that in for me. … I felt welcomed. That felt good to see that drop." #Pacers pic.twitter.com/f6cXLWRRZt
— FOX Sports Indiana (@FSIndiana) February 12, 2019
It’s not like the Pacers need spiritual leadership this year the way they have in the past—Pacers fans in recent memory who were disgusted by the late Paul George teams and their mechanical lack of heart in 2016 and ’17 are rightly in love with this squad now.
And since visiting with Oladipo in Miami, the team is 6-0 and relishing their role as the “national media’s sleeping” underdog for the playoffs.
But when everyone on the roster buys into a team-first mentality, you get a squad with all the potential we saw in a 2018 Celtics team that came a LeBron James away from making the Finals.
LeBron’s not on Cleveland anymore. Boston’s a mess. Milwaukee is raw. Toronto has occasionally looked terribly ordinary. And Philly’s Philly.
With Wes Matthews coming in and doing one heck of a Lance impression, the only question for Pacers fans remains, “why not us?”
Let’s just hope Wes shoots better than 20 percent from the field and 28.6 from three the rest of the way.