AP Sports News
|Pacers head to Miami after 101-96 loss to Pistons|
|Written by MICHAEL MAROT AP Sports Writer|
|Tuesday, 17 December 2013 07:26|
INDIANAPOLIS — Detroit threw a surprise road block in Indiana’s path to the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
Now the Pacers face another daunting task — winning at Miami to avoid their first losing streak of the season.
Josh Smith scored 30 points, Brandon Jennings added 18 and Greg Monroe finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds to help the Pistons stun Indiana 101-96 Monday night and hand the Pacers their first home defeat this season.
“We’re going to have a target on our back all year,” Pacers' guard George Hill said. “We’ve had some success so far, so we’re taking everyone’s best shot and today we didn’t come to play.”
It was evident right from the start that this was not the same Indiana team that set a franchise record by starting 9-0 overall and another by opening the season 11-0 at home.
Some wondered before the game whether the Pacers (20-4) might get caught looking past the Pistons (12-14), who have won two of their last six, and ahead to Wednesday night’s marquee rematch with Miami. Indiana defeated the two-time defending champs 99-94 in Indy last week and heads to South Beach for the first time since losing Game 7 of the conference finals in June.
Coach Frank Vogel downplayed the notion Indiana was distracted, saying before and after the game that his team was not “looking ahead at all.”
On the court, though, the Pacers did not play their game.
The Pistons were tougher inside, tougher on defense and tougher at fending off challenges. And the Eastern Conference’s top team looked like anything but as Detroit played almost flawlessly and beat Indiana at its own game by dominating the middle.
“It’s impressive the way we came in and competed with the way the Pacers have been playing,” Pistons' coach Maurice Cheeks said. “We have a good basketball team.”
The Pistons held a 55-40 rebounding advantage and a lopsided 20-9 edge on offensive rebounds, something Paul George contended threw the Pacers off.
Detroit also out-scored Indiana 44-38 in the paint and 22-14 on second-chance points while shooting 43.2 percent from the field, the same as Indiana.
For a Pacers' team that prides itself on defense and rebounding, it wasn’t even close to their best as they tuned up for Miami.
Indiana never tied the score in the second half and never took the lead on its home floor, falling to the second-best record in the league, percentage points behind Portland (21-4).
The Pistons knew that to end their six-game losing streak in this series and their nine-game losing streak at Bankers Life Fieldhouse they had to execute the game plan flawlessly. They did.
Meanwhile, Miami faced its own unexpected challenge Monday night when struggling Utah played better than advertised in the first half. Unlike the Pacers, though, Miami seized control over the final two quarters and pulled away for a 117-94 win.
Whatever the explanation, Indiana wasn’t the same.
Paul George was 4 of 14 from the field, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds and four turnovers. Roy Hibbert had six points and four rebounds. Even the energetic Lance Stephenson couldn’t get his flustered teammates righted. Stephenson scored a career best 23 points and Luis Scola added a season high 18.
When asked if he was looking forward to the rematch, George said: “I am. The good thing about the NBA is the quick turnarounds.”
And there is plenty to work on after Monday’s stunner.
Detroit used a 10-3 first quarter run to take a 23-14 lead and never trailed thereafter.
Even in the second half, when the Pacers typically dominate, the Pistons refused fold.
Detroit scored the last eight points of the first half to take a 57-49 lead. Then Smith scored Detroit’s first eight points in the second half, and the surging Pistons took advantage of Indiana’s growing frustration by extending the lead to 72-61 on Brandon Jennings’ layup with 5:20 left in the third quarter. Jennings finished with 18 points and eight assists.
Indiana rallied again, getting within 79-73 after three, but the Pistons answered with a 7-2 spurt that made it 89-79 with 7:01 to go. Scola’s layup with 4:55 remaining ended an 8-0 run that got the Pacers as close as 89-87, but the Pistons ran off five straight points.
Stephenson gave it one final push, hitting a 3 with 1:17 to go to cut Detroit’s lead to 96-94, but the Pistons closed it out at the free-throw line.
“We had a lot of confidence coming in here tonight. We played Portland (Sunday) night in a game we should have won,” Jennings said. “Tonight we knew were playing the best team in the Eastern Conference and we were able to give them their first home loss.”
NOTES: Indiana is the NBA’s only team that has not been in a game decided by fewer than five points. ... Guard Chauncey Billups was inactive for the Pistons. ... Vogel said swingman Danny Granger is on track to return to the lineup Friday night against Houston. He has not played this season because of a strained left calf. ... Indiana fell to 10-3 when trailing at halftime.
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