AUBURN HILLS, Mich., May 28 (Ticker) --
Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle changed his starting lineup, inserting Austin Croshere
. He may have changed the complexion of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Croshere scored 14 points and snapped his teammates out of their offensive funk as the Pacers evened the series with a convincing 83-68 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
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Austin Croshere scored seven of his 14 points in the third quarter as Indiana began to pull away.
Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images/NBAE
Top-seeded Indiana ignored injuries to starters Jermaine O'Neal
and Jamaal Tinsley
and tilted the series back in its favor, denying Detroit a 3-1 lead and regaining home-court advantage. The Pacers host Game 5 on Sunday.
A 6-9 forward with perimeter skills, Croshere did not start once in 77 games during the season or the first 13 postseason contests. Like many of his teammates, he was struggling on offense, shooting less than 30 percent from the field.
But with the Pistons packing in their defense against the Pacers, Carlisle started Croshere at center in place of Jeff Foster
, an interior banger. The change was a masterstroke.
"To get the opportunity to step up and start in a big game like this was great," Croshere said. "It really didn't surprise me, though, because I saw how the flow of the game went in the fourth quarter of Game 3."
"We talked about it a little as a team, and I asked them how to handle the situation," Carlisle said. "We felt it was a gamble, because we would lose a little without Foster, but it was one worth taking. We decided to keep it quiet, not because it was some gimmicky secret weapon, but it just helps with a mood like
that to not let the other team know what you are doing."
Croshere's presence on the perimeter forced the Pistons to stretch their defense, opening the interior for O'Neal and driving lanes for Ron Artest
. After shooting 32 percent through the first three games, Indiana shot 46 percent (32-of-70).
"We wanted to take advantage of the way they were collapsing on our big guys," said Croshere, who made 5-of-8 shots. "If Jermaine beat someone, there was always another shot-blocker waiting for him. With me on the perimeter, it really spread the floor and made them be honest guarding me."
"With him out there, it is hard for them to help on me, because he can knock down a shot on them," Artest said.
But Croshere was more than a decoy. He closed the first half with a 3-pointer to give the Pacers a 49-39 lead, then drilled two more early in the third quarter, pushing the advantage to 57-41 and demoralizing Detroit.
"Austin was a big plus for them," Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "He spaced things out and hit big threes, and we weren't able to take advantage of the matchup at the other end. He just played great."
Artest, who made 15-of-57 shots in the first three games, sank 8-of-19 and scored 20 points. Reggie Miller
, who had been 7-of-24, was 6-of-7 for 15 points.
Meanwhile, the Pistons looked like they were playing against their own defense. They labored through an 11-point third quarter and shot under 31 percent (24-of-78) overall. The frontcourt of Rasheed Wallace
, Ben Wallace
and Tayshaun Prince
made 5-of-27 shots.
"We got a little fortunate, because guys like Rasheed Wallace aren't going to have many games like that (5-of-17) in the playoffs, and Ben was never able to get anything going (0-of-5)," Carlisle said.
Late in the first quarter, O'Neal's left knee buckled as he landed with a rebound. He went to the locker room, where it was diagnosed as a sprain. He returned and finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks.
"It was terrible to go down in the first quarter of a big game, but I went back to the locker room and they told me it was OK to play," said O'Neal, who will have an MRI on Saturday.
Artest scored 12 points in the first quarter, giving the Pacers a 29-17 lead. The Pistons opened the second period with eight straight points but got no closer.
"They hit us first and we didn't respond," said Pistons guard Richard Hamilton
, who scored 22 points. "We also didn't defend every possession like we did in the first three games."
Croshere's 3-pointers in the third quarter gave Indiana the biggest lead of the series, and it grew as Detroit kept misfiring. Two free throws by Anthony Johnson
, who came on when Tinsley aggravated a hamstring injury, made it 69-46 with 2:43 to play.
"I thought if we could come out for the second half and jump on them, we still had a chance, but we came out with no energy," Brown said.
Two 3-pointers around a three-point play by Chauncey Billups
, who scored 21 points, cut the deficit to 72-61 with 6:26 to go. But Artest made three straight jumpers, sending many of the 22,076 at The Palace to the exits.