Handcuffed

Pacers hold Pistons to season-low 72 points, sweep season series

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Indiana’s league-leading defense widened its gap over the rest of the league with another suffocating performance, limiting the Pistons to nine first-quarter points and a season-low 72 in an 18-point loss. No Pistons starter scored more than one basket in the first half and they spent much of the game shooting under 30 percent before finishing at 33.8 percent. Greg Monroe recorded a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, recovering from a start that saw him miss all seven of his first-quarter shots. David West scored 16 for the Packers and Paul George had 12 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

BLUE COLLAR – Will Bynum, finally free from the nagging ankle injuries that robbed him of his explosive change-of-direction quickness in recent seasons, continues to be a difference maker off the bench. Bynum gave the Pistons a much-needed spark after a nine-point first quarter, hitting six baskets in the second quarter. Bynum finished with 15 points in 15 minutes, getting tossed three minutes into the fourth quarter for a flagrant-two foul after a confrontation with Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough.

RED FLAG – Jason Maxiell, who played perhaps the best basketball of his career over the first half of the season, has gone into a deep slump over the past several weeks. The mid-range jump shot that had grown so reliable isn’t falling and Maxiell’s rebounding numbers have declined, as well. He’s averaging fewer than four boards a game in February, a 50 percent plunge from his season production, and has had just three games of more than five rebounds this month. Two of those games came in the weekend back-to-back set with Indiana, when poor shooting made plenty of rebounds available. Maxiell’s backup, Charlie Villanueva, is also struggling, shooting under 35 percent since Jan. 1. Villanueva was 1 of 11 against the Pacers.

The Pistons were markedly better defensively than 24 hours earlier in Indiana. They played noticeably harder. But they again had little success solving the NBA’s toughest defense. Once they crossed half-court, the Pistons had as much trouble getting clean looks at the basket as drivers in a whiteout have figuring out where the lane ends and the ditch begins.

One night after facing the season’s largest deficit – 43 points – the Pistons mounted their season worst scoring total, 72 points. And it looked like they’d never get within sniffing distance of 72 when they scored nine points and shot 14 percent in the first quarter.

“I thought we were pretty good defensively, too,” Lawrence Frank said after the 90-72 win that mercifully ends the season series with Indiana in a sweep for the Pacers. “We held them to 16 points. This was a very good lesson for us in terms of what playoff basketball is like. It’s a grind-fest.”

At 22-36 with 24 games to play, the rare Friday-Saturday home and home with Indiana is likely as close to the playoffs as the Pistons will get this season. But Frank’s point stands. The Pistons have played three games over the past five days against two teams, Memphis and Indiana, built for playoff basketball – teams that call to mind the style on which the Goin’ to Work Pistons’ success was built in the previous decade.

“They’re big, they’re long, athletic and they communicate,” Will Bynum said. “They’re all on the same page. It’s just tough. They make everything tough on us. They’re a tough team.”

For too much of the night, Bynum was the only Piston who seemed to have a vague road map to the basket. He was the only Piston who managed to score more than a single basket in the first half; Bynum’s six field goals accounted for more than half of Detroit’s 11 on 40 attempts. It was midway through the third quarter when Rodney Stuckey scored on a reverse layup before all five Pistons starters had combined to score more baskets than Bynum alone when he’d played just 12 second-quarter minutes to that point.

Alas, Bynum only played three more for the game, ejected early in the fourth quarter for a flagrant-2 foul against Indiana provocateur Tyler Hansbrough.

“It’s one of those things that happens throughout the course of the game,” Bynum said. “The game was kind of physical. Just during the heat of the moment. It was nothing intentional, though.”

“I don’t think Will intentionally did anything,” Frank said. “He swung his arm, but I haven’t seen it on tape. From the naked eye, it didn’t look intentional. Hansbrough is an instigator. That’s just how he plays and sometimes it crosses the line and guys respond back. On that particular play, I don’t think Hansbrough did anything, but I’d have to look at the tape.”

It might be a painful watch, as least the cutups of Detroit’s half-court offense. The Pistons needed a 24-point fourth-quarter outburst to crest the 70-point mark and shot below 30 percent until late in the third quarter, finishing at 33.8.

“I thought we got some good looks early,” Frank said. “Took a bunch of jump shots, but got some good looks. Then I think we missed some shots around the rim and we got a little bit frustrated and started to take some off-balance shots. You start to play a little too hurried at times. Sometimes we had shots we didn’t make and you start to press a little bit.”

There were ugly numbers up and down the box score. Greg Monroe missed all seven of his shots in the first nine minutes before a strong finish – he had eight points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter – produced another double-double with 12 points and 12 boards, though he shot 4 of 16. Kyle Singler was 1 of 6, Charlie Villanueva 1 of 11 off the bench.

“That’s why they’re the second-best team in the East,” Frank said. “They’re able to impose their will on you. We just have to continue to work our habits to be able to play hard and physical and then be able to transfer to the offensive end, because you go at two different speeds. If you’re going to play these guys, you have to be ready to bloody a nose and take a bloody nose. They play smash-mouth basketball.”

“They just had our number from start to finish,” Bynum said. “There’s no other way to look at it other than that.”