Break Boost

Pistons outscore Indiana in OT thriller, head to All-Star break

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Tayshaun Prince always knows he’ll have his hands full with Danny Granger, and he did again on Wednesday as Indiana’s small forward scored 28. But Prince likes to go right back at Granger, not known for his defense, and he did more than his share of damage on the other end, too, leading the Pistons with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Prince could have ended the game in regulation, but the officials didn’t make a call that looked obvious – Granger appeared to hack at him at least twice – and Prince’s shot fell far short. Prince came up with a big play in overtime, though, grabbing Ben Gordon’s missed 3-point shot with 1:34 left and dunking it to put the Pistons ahead by six.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons got glowing reports on Greg Monroe’s character from Georgetown’s coaches in their predraft background work last spring, at one point hearing comparisons of his character to that of former Hoyas Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert. So the Pistons should be heartened by the strides Hibbert, now in his third season, has made since leaving Georgetown. He punished the Pistons inside Wednesday, finishing with 29 points on a variety of post moves and finishes with either hand, to go with nine rebounds. Monroe, meanwhile, had 13 points and four boards, scoring eight points when he worked his way inside for four third-quarter layups. The Pistons believe Monroe has the same type of no-nonsense work ethic and fire to improve as Hibbert and think he’ll be putting up those types of numbers as his career gets that far down the path.

RED FLAG – When the Pistons shoot 50 percent or better and are well over that mark for a big chunk of the game, they shouldn’t have to go to overtime to pull out a win. They shot a sizzling 64.3 percent in Wednesday’s first half and committed just four turnovers. Those types of numbers should translate to a double-digit lead. Yet the Pistons went to the locker room with a mere five-point lead on the Pacers, who shot 50 percent and grabbed 10 offensive rebounds. Indiana shot 50 percent for the game, as well. The Pistons finished at 51.5 percent.

The Pistons could have made the All-Star break getaway game a lot more meaningful if they had managed to salt away a few more wins in the stretch of home games that led to Indiana’s visit. As it was, the 20-36 record they dragged behind them into Wednesday’s game left them seven games in the loss column behind both the Pacers and Philadelphia in the chase for the East’s final two playoff spots.

So the road back is a long and treacherous one, but at least it was a journey begun in the right direction with a 115-109 overtime win over a team that had gone 7-2 since changing coaches late last month.

“Let’s be honest – every loss compounds something,” John Kuester said of the struggle the Pistons face when they return for the final 25 games. “We need a couple of breaks.”

And even though the Pistons led virtually wire to wire – Indiana’s only lead of the night came at 3-2 on Mike Dunleavy’s triple 30 seconds into the game – there was a sense of foreboding as the Pacers stayed on their heels throughout the second half.

Even after Ben Gordon’s circus layup with under five minutes to go gave the Pistons a double-digit lead, nobody breathed easy.

“It’s always a tale of two halves with us,” said Tayshaun Prince, the night’s star for the Pistons with 25 points and 11 boards. “We knew there was going to be a time when they were going to start making shots. But we stuck together. Usually, we’ve ended up on the bad end of the stick at those times and fortunately we were on the other side.”

The game was a crowd-pleaser all the way, with the shot clock often not getting to single digits and a modicum of fouls called. One the Pistons felt should have been whistled but wasn’t came as Prince attempted the game winner to end regulation, when Danny Granger hooked him before Prince left the floor, then bumped his arm as he shot, causing the ball to come nowhere near the rim.

Prince was told by one official he doesn’t call a foul on “bail-out” shots.

“I was very surprised,” Prince said. “I felt the contact, not just before I shot, but once I shot, too. I was also surprised at the reaction he gave me. But we kept our heads in it in overtime. (Rodney) Stuckey played well for us in overtime, attacking the rim, then (Ben Gordon) hit some tough shots for us, too.”

The question, as it always is for the Pistons after rousing wins this season, is whether they can sustain momentum this time. Somebody asked Prince if the All-Star break was coming at an inopportune time, given the rousing finish at The Palace.

“It’s coming at a good time,” he said. “We’ve played up and down throughout. Just because we got this win today doesn’t mean we need to keep playing. We’ve won a game, lost two or three, and we’ve been doing that all season long. I think this is a good time.”

Then Prince talked about the frustrations of the season.

“When you’re playing well and all of a sudden you come to the second half and things go totally opposite, it can be frustrating,” he said, “and I think that frustration has been showing.”

They played with a looseness and a swagger not much in evidence this season against the Pacers, and maybe that had something to do with the carrot of the break and the chance to get away from their frustrations for a long weekend.

The hope, as Kuester suggested, was that they can come back holding on to the type of enthusiasm that marked their play in Wednesday’s win.

“I thought our energy was great,” he said. “The players took ownership. When they take ownership and play with that type of effort, man, I’m not saying we’ll win the championship, but we’ll be very tough to beat.”

Somebody asked Kuester about the timing of the break.

“I know (players will) all miss me,” he joked. “A couple of them want to have individual instructions. But I think the break is good for everyone and hopefully we’ll come back with that same type of energy we had tonight. This is a game of mistakes, but when you do things with effort, you give yourselves a chance.”

A loss to the Pacers and they might have been out of chances. They still have very little wiggle room, but at least their weekend off won’t be devoid of hope for a fruitful stretch run.