Pacers Pull Away

George’s 31 too much as Indiana stays unbeaten in 8-point win over Pistons


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

WHITE HOT – In a game where points were hard fought, the ease with which Paul George made it appear he could score lifted Indiana to a 99-91 win in an early-season showdown of Central Division playoff contenders. George scored 31 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Indiana, which pushed Miami to seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference finals and is the NBA’s last unbeaten team at 4-0. It was a battle for the first 40 minutes, but Indiana outscored the Pistons 18-3 after they cut an 11-point deficit to four early in the fourth quarter. After falling behind by 19, the Pistons came back to get within five points in the final 30 seconds.

BLUE COLLAR – It was a game as advertised, matching two of the biggest frontcourts in the league. And they played each other to a virtual standoff, George’s scoring exploits the outlier. Space was hard to come by inside – the Pistons came in averaging 55.3 and Indiana, first in the league at holding opponents to 30 such points, limited them to 46 – but Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond combined for 20 points and 19 rebounds against the 20 points and 18 rebounds put up by Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and David West.

RED FLAG – The preseason concerns about the Pistons’ perimeter shooting punch won’t be put to rest after this game. They were outscored from the 3-point arc 27-15, making just 5 of 25, including just 3 of 20 until the late going when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Jennings made shots when the Pistons were frantically clawing back. Maurice Cheeks put Gigi Datome in the rotation, but he missed all of his four attempts. Chauncey Billups was 0 of 3 from the arc.

The easy answer is Indiana shot it better than the Pistons. Way better. And especially better from the 3-point line. In a game the Pacers – the NBA’s last unbeaten team at 4-0 – would win by eight points, they outscored the Pistons by 12 from the 3-point line. And they took four fewer shots from the arc to do it.

So that’s the easy answer. That and Paul George, who looked every bit worth the maximum contract the Pacers handed him in the off-season. He scored 31 points and he did it effortlessly on a night, pitting two of the league’s brawniest teams, when others required Herculean feats to score.

The tougher answers will be the ones the Pistons spend the season’s remaining 78 games trying to get to. They’ve had fewer games together than the Pacers have had seasons as a core. Brandon Jennings started his first game after preseason was a complete washout for him. Greg Monroe is the only holdover starter from a year ago. For the many ways these teams resemble each other, the familiarity edge goes to Indiana by landslide.

Maybe it was purely George’s talent that resulted in Indiana shooting 52 percent overall and 43 percent from the 3-point arc – he made 12 of 18 shots, 4 of 8 triples – while the Pistons’ numbers were 38 and 20. Or maybe it was the fact the Pacers are so purely in tune with who they are and what they do that led to the creation of the shots that produced those points.

“It’s a good lesson learned for us, to see where we need to get to,” said Josh Smith, who matched up with George for a good chunk of the game and finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. “This is a team that’s been together for quite some time. As long as we keep striving and keep playing together and keep finding what we like to do on the court, I think we’ll be OK.”

“He made some shots, especially in the first half, and they always had him to get the ball to him and try to break his defender down and kick it to somebody else or to make a shot,” Maurice Cheeks said. “He was really good tonight.”

"You try to build yourself on the defensive end because those shots aren’t going to go in every night."

- Maurice Cheeks on finding more shooting
Full game quotes
The Pacers won the first and third quarters emphatically, 29-14 and 36-22. The Pistons took a halftime lead by outscoring Indiana 27-9 in the second quarter when Indiana played George and Roy Hibbert, who racked up seven blocked shots, only 4:49 apiece. George played all but nine seconds of the second half, yet the Pistons made two rallies. The first brought them within four points three minutes into the fourth quarter after Indiana led by 11 after three, the second to within five with 33 seconds left after an 18-3 run produced a 19-point Pacers lead.

The Pistons were 3 of 20 from the 3-point line – they missed their first 10 from the arc – at the time their deficit reached its peak.

“The paint was packed,” Cheeks said. “Hibbert was pretty good in closing off the paint. We just have to be more aggressive getting to the rim, see if we can get to the foul line a little more. But it certainly helps if you open up the perimeter by making some shots and we didn’t make a lot of perimeter shots tonight.”

Cheeks made one rotation move prompted specifically by his desire to usher more shooting into the equation, using Gigi Datome for the first time in his NBA career other than a 19-second garbage time cameo in the opener.

Datome, who missed all of the preseason with foot and hamstring injuries, had three open triples in a brief first-half span and missed all of them. The surprise wasn’t so much that Cheeks used Datome, but that he used him at power forward, matched against Luis Scola. It was a mismatch both ways – Datome a 3-point specialist, Scola a physical presence with a deft shooting touch from 18 feet and in – but Datome couldn’t take advantage of the open space.

“I threw Gigi in there early on to see if he could – I knew they’d put Scola in there and to see if we could make some shots with Scola not rotating up to him,” Cheeks said. “And they didn’t, but he just didn’t make a shot so it didn’t benefit us when we did that. We didn’t, they did – and that was pretty much the difference.”

Datome finished 0 of 4 from the arc, Chauncey Billups 0 of 3, Smith and Brandon Jennings 1 of 6 each. Jennings scored 17 points but it took him 20 shots to get there and Cheeks thinks that, in large measure, is explained by the familiarity factor – lack of, in this case.

“They did look a little out of whack,” said Cheeks, who has run two practices with Jennings since Oct. 8, one of them a light Saturday workout after Friday’s overtime loss at Memphis. “Brandon didn’t look real comfortable coming off, taking a shot. Looked like he had some wide-open shots that he will make later on. Tonight, he didn’t make ’em.”

“It happens,” Smith said. “Basketball is a game of imperfection. Offense comes and goes, but we should have bucked down a little bit more on the defensive end.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel spoke glowingly of the Pistons before the game and left The Palace without changing his opinion, the 41 minutes he used George testament to the challenge the Pistons presented in his view.

“Real quality win against a really good basketball team, a team that I think will make the playoffs this year,” he said. “They have monster size and great guards.”

“Today was a good step for us playing against a team that was in the Eastern Conference finals,” said Andre Drummond, who finished with six points and nine rebounds while battling Hibbert (eight points, 10 boards) toe to toe. “We knew what we were up against tonight – a team that likes to battle down low just like we do. They got the best of us today. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board, what we need to do to come back when we do play them again, to have a better game.”