Outpaced in Indy

Pacers pull away from Pistons to win season opener

TEAM COLORS

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

– After closing last season on a rush under interim coach Frank Vogel and giving the Bulls a series of competitive games in an opening-round playoff loss, then adding David West and George Hill to an already deep rotation in the off-season, Indiana was everybody’s pick as the Eastern team likeliest to take a step forward this season. The Pacers did nothing to cast doubt on those projections in the opener, hitting the Pistons across all five positions with production in a 91-79 win. After three quarters, by which time the Pacers led by 18, they had seven players who’d scored between seven and 13 points, dominating the Pistons on the glass, taking care of the basketball and bulling their way to the foul line. To be sure, it won’t be a game the Pistons will look back at fondly, but it will be remembered more for what the game said about the Pacers than a statement on the Pistons in their first game under Lawrence Frank.

BLUE COLLAR – Jonas Jerebko fouled out in just 17 minutes in his preseason debut, just two games ago, after missing all of last season. But he was the Pistons’ best player in the season opener, scoring 17 points to go with five reb ounds. Jerebko reminded Pistons fans of what they missed last season, running the floor to pick up transition buckets, sticking his nose into every fray, and showing an opportunistic scoring streak. He battled noted Pistons killer David West, a crafty post scorer with a reliable jumper to 20 feet, holding him to 3 of 12 shooting and 11 points.

RED FLAG – Lawrence Frank talked about the Pistons’ recent rebounding deficiencies and made it a point of emphasis in camp to “gang rebound.” It didn’t go well in game one as the Pacers outrebounded the Pistons 53-40. The first half was really where the difference arose, Indiana holding a 30-16 edge and grabbing an ominous 11 offensive rebounds to Detroit’s 13 defensive boards. The Pistons were much more competitive on the glass in the second half, actually outrebounding the Pacers 24-23.

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawrence Frank wanted a starting point. Now he has one. Not the one he wanted, but a starting point.

“They played smash-mouth basketball,” Frank said after his Pistons debut resulted in a 91-79 loss at Indiana in which the Pacers never trailed and led by as many as 24. “They dominated us in the paint. It’s cause and effect. Between their post-up and pick-and-roll play, our inability to keep the ball out of the middle of the floor, plus their desire to go get it … you look at the rebounding numbers, to have such a lopsided advantage like that, we put ourselves in a really bad spot. We’re supposed to be a no-middle, no-paint team. They were a better team tonight.”

As long as the Pacers were missing shots, the Pistons weren’t buried by their early turnovers, the frequent trips to the foul line Indiana was taking and the assault the Pacers waged on both backboards. Once those shots started dropping, good night.

It didn’t take long, either. Down five with 3:38 to go before halftime and hoping to get to the locker room within arm’s length of the Pacers to clean up their mistakes, the Pistons found themselves trailing by 13 just 79 seconds later after a Ben Gordon turnover and a Tayshaun Prince miss opened the door for consecutive triples from Paul George and Darren Collison.

As leaky as the Pistons were on the glass, they were that out of sync on offense, too, shooting 36 percent and coughing it up seven times in the first quarter en route to a manageable 16 for the night.

“It is a disappointment, the way we played,” said Rodney Stuckey, who started despite missing the first week of training camp and finished with 17 points and six assists. “But we’ve got 65 games, so we’re not going to let this one hurt us, even though we came out and played pretty bad. We’ve got to do the little things. That’s first of all rebound the basketball. They killed us on the boards tonight. Take care of the ball, just execute on offense. We just had a lot of shots with the shock clock going down to like five seconds, turned the ball over, not in spots where we need to be. I think we’ll be fine, go back to the drawing board, go to practice tomorrow and get ready for the game on Wednesday.”

Frank has preached to the Pistons throughout camp about not making too much of one game, win or lose, only about getting better every day. Frank’s reputation from his days in New Jersey was about showing up at practice the day after losses with a laser focus on the working points from the previous night’s game.

“It just shows you where we’re at right now,” Frank said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

The Pistons were outrebounded 30-16 in the first half, and at one point Indiana held a 20-4 edge in free throw attempts, and though they managed to hold their own in the second half (a 24-23 rebounding edge), the Pacers’ frontcourt of Roy Hibbert (14 rebounds), David West (12) and Tyler Hansbrough (13) roughed up the Pistons, who had three players with seven rebounds apiece – Greg Monroe and two second-unit players, Ben Wallace and Austin Daye.

But Monroe did his damage late, mostly because he was limited to 11 minutes through three quarters by foul trouble.

“I’ve just got to be better personally, as well as the team,” Monroe said. “We all have to be better. The refs call the fouls. It’s something you can’t control. You’ve just got to keep playing. We just have to want it more, box out, get to bodies, limit them to one shot. It’s something we’ll get better at. Tonight was a bad night for us, but we’ll get better.”

Jonas Jerebko, who qualified as the shining light of the opener with 17 points and five boards, echoed Monroe’s thoughts – frustrated and angry with the opener, grimly serious that it would get better from here.

“I know we’re so much better than this,” he said. “We’ve just got to start thinking about the next game and learn from our mistakes from this first one. It was the first game and we’ll get a lot better.”

Frank promised a faster tempo this year and it was exactly that which allowed the Pistons to get back into the game after Indiana led by nine after one quarter. The Pistons got several transition baskets in the second quarter, Jerebko integral to the interlude by running the floor, whittling the lead to three by the mid-point despite having Monroe limited by foul trouble to just seven first-half minutes. Then Indiana spurted.

“A 12-2 run,” Frank said. “We’re obviously very much a work in progress. There are going to be a lot of growing pains, but it has to be on the terms we’re working at.”

Frank lamented the lack of ball movement and the shots that came out of rhythm, which resulted in a number of ugly numbers for individual Pistons. Prince was 3 of 10, Gordon 4 of 14, Daye 0 of 3. Rookie Brandon Knight had a shaky start, missing his first four shots and committing a couple of quick turnovers, and he finished 3 of 9. But he also revealed the possibilities his shooting range create, knocking down three triples in a nine-point debut.

It wasn’t hard to figure out why they lost. And it won’t be any tougher to figure out how to improve.

“They beat us tonight, plain and simple,” Monroe said. “There were zero lead changes, so as soon as the ball was thrown up, they beat us tonight. That’s the truth. And that’s something that we can’t let happen.”