If the Indiana Pacers are to get past the Miami Heat in the NBA's Eastern Conference finals, Lance Stephenson understands he's going to have to continue doing more.

On Friday, Pacers coach Frank Vogel described the third-year player as "the key to our team," and Stephenson thinks he is finally ready to wear a label with that kind of responsibility.

"It's taken [me] two years, but I figured it out this year, and I'm just learning every day. I'm not trying to do anything out of my range," he said. "Indiana's been patient with me. They've helped me grow and be patient. I'm just happy they gave me the opportunity to play on the floor, a good opportunity to help me succeed."

Along with forward Paul George, Stephenson has emerged as one of the Pacers' most improved players this season. He went from a handful of minutes in last year's playoffs to averaging nearly 35 minutes this season. He's averaging 9.5 points in the postseason, along with 8.4 rebounds.

On Wednesday in the series opener, the guard pulled down a team-high 12 rebounds, including 10 on the defensive side. But he was limited to 7 points in nearly 43 minutes of action.

Considering Stephenson spent more of last year's Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat on the bench, that's not bad. But for Indiana to succeed, those numbers have to get better.

"Usually you go from not being in the rotation to getting some backup minutes. He's skipped that step entirely and gone right into the starting lineup," Vogel said. "He's a big, big minutes guy. He's really the key to our team. When he's playing great, we're very, very tough to beat. When he's being kept in check, we're limited."

Stephenson — in both his style of play and his attitude — has matured from a year ago, when television cameras caught him making a choking gesture after LeBron James missed a free throw during last year's semifinals.