Lapped in Indy

Spurred by playoff possibilities, Pacers pound Pistons

TEAM COLORS

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

– Pacers point guard Darren Collison has struggled at times this season against the Pistons, especially defensively when he’s tried to guard the much bigger and stronger Rodney Stuckey, who has punished him inside. But with Stuckey out of the starting lineup, Collison guarded Rip Hamilton, who started the game 1 of 5 and struggled with his shot. That allowed Collison to stay on the floor and find his rhythm. He didn’t do as much playmaking as usual – he didn’t have a first-half assist, finishing with just three – but he frequently got inside the paint knocked down 9 of 11 shots, all in the first three quarters, and finished with 20 points.

BLUE COLLAR – Rodney Stuckey hasn’t been starting lately as John Kuester’s latest backcourt pairing has Tracy McGrady at the point with Rip Hamilton at shooting guard. But Stuckey played exceptionally hard despite the 25-point deficit the Pistons faced by the midway point of the third quarter. He finished with game highs of 24 points and nine assists and also added seven rebounds.

RED FLAG – The Pistons led 27-24 after one quarter, but both Chris Wilcox and Greg Monroe got tagged with two fouls. With Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva on, the Pacers quickly went to work on the offensive glass. They took the lead on successive three-point plays from Jeff Foster and Josh McRoberts when they scored off put-backs and scored 10 quick points directly off of offensive boards. The Pacers opened the quarter with a 17-6 run and widened their lead to 12 at halftime. Indiana scored 35 points in the quarter, 13 off second chances.

The Pistons admit their envy of Indiana’s position – the Pacers are in the driver’s seat for the East’s last playoff spot with two weeks to go – and anger with themselves for squandering opportunities to mount a challenge. But as motivating factors go that deep into the NBA season, the lure of the playoffs trumps anger.

Or it did Wednesday, at least, when their anger didn’t manifest itself in a damn-the- torpedoes effort until it was too late, the Pacers building a 25-point lead in the third quarter before the Pistons made the final a little more palatable by creeping within 10, 111-101.

When last the Pistons played, Saturday night against the Pacers at The Palace, they held Indiana to 88 points and won by 12. The three days off seemed to induce lethargy, though, and this time the Pacers scored 90 points before three quarters were out and topped 100 with nearly nine minutes left in the game.

“In the NBA, if you don’t come ready to play, teams find out,” John Kuester said. “It doesn’t matter what their record is right now, if you don’t come to play you’re going to get beat.”

The loss drops the Pistons to 26-48, while Indiana’s win boosted the Pacers to 34-42 with eight games left on each team’s schedule. The Pistons could force a tie, and in doing so would win the tiebreaker with the Pacers based on superior divisional record. But that, of course, is an extreme long shot. And should Indiana slip, Charlotte or Milwaukee are both better positioned to take advantage than the Pistons are.

The Pistons took a three-point lead to the second quarter after a highly efficient offensive first, but were outscored 67-43 over the next two quarters. Poor defensive rebounding killed them in the second quarter and a rash of early turnovers turned the game into a rout shortly after halftime.

“They really came out and fed off of their fans in the second quarter,” said Rip Hamilton, who finished with 19 after a cold start. “We kind of turned the ball over on the first three possessions of the second half and that really hurt us. We were already down (12). It’s tough to come back when a team makes an early run like that.”

“We needed to come with some energy (after halftime) and the guys didn’t have it,” Kuester said. “They turned the ball over quickly and we didn’t handle that second and third, especially that third period.

“(Rebounding) hurt us, especially in the (second) period. It was getting those extra opportunities. You work so hard for a few seconds and then all of a sudden you’re not able to get that rebound that is important to you.”

Both Greg Monroe and Chris Wilcox, who had strong starts, got tagged with their second fouls before the first quarter was out and had to be removed. With Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva on instead, the Pacers quickly took the lead for good. Josh McRoberts and Jeff Foster were especially effective in the second quarter as Indiana scored 35 points, 13 alone on second-chance baskets or free throws that resulted from offensive boards.

Down 12 at halftime, the Pistons turned the ball over on the first possession of the second half, the Pacers turning it into a transition layup. Barely a minute and two more turnovers later, the Pacers were up 18.

Rodney Stuckey again didn’t start, but he played 36 minutes to Tracy McGrady’s 11 and it was Stuckey who led the comeback, though the outcome was never in doubt. The Pacers did a poor job of managing the clock with their big lead and the Pistons were happy to speed up the tempo of the game, giving Stuckey plenty of opportunities in the open court. He wound up nearly putting up triple-double numbers with 24 points, nine assists and seven boards.