By Conrad Brunner
What was a relatively comfortable three-game lead just three days ago has quickly been reduced to a most uncomfortable one as the Pacers dropped their second game in a row to a team with a losing record, 100-88 Saturday to the Pistons before 19,216 in the Palace of Auburn Hills.
As the Pacers dropped a back-to-back set, Charlotte (30-42) swept the Celtics and Knicks to pull just one game back. Indiana swept the season series from the Bobcats and thus holds the playoff tie-breaker.
Milwaukee (29-43) remained two games back after losing 95-87 at home to Chicago.
Detroit used a 19-2 run in the third quarter to build a comfortable lead and Charlie Villanueva scored all 13 of his points on 5-of-5 shooting in the fourth quarter to close the door.
Brandon Rush led Indiana with 19 points off the bench.
- "We just gave away two games in the last two nights to two teams that wanted it more and just let other teams right back in the hunt. We have to step it up and if we donít we will be out of the playoffs plain and simple." Ė Pacers forward Danny Granger
- "It was a tough loss for our club tonight, we fought hard, but we just had a poor offensive third quarter, we fought to stay in it in the fourth quarter and Villanueva came in, hadnít played all game or last game, and he was the difference in the game." Ė Vogel
- "We should have won this game and we didnít do that tonight." Ė Granger
- "(The third quarter) pretty much killed us. We didnít come out from half with any intensity and they took the lead and never gave it up." Ė Granger
STAT OF THE GAME
In their last six home-road back-to-backs, the Pacers have dropped all six road games by an average of 16.8 points.
The Pacers avoided a slow start, in fact jumping off to a 15-6 lead but the Pistons stayed close throughout the first half. With Rush coming off the bench red-hot, hitting all five of his first-half shots including three 3-pointers, the Pacers led 47-42 late in the half.
But Detroit started to turn things around with a 6-0 run to close the second quarter and a 5-0 run to start the third, taking a 53-47 lead. The Pacers scored six in a row to tie it but the Pistons soon broke it open behind two familiar faces, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, who combined for 12 points in the 19-2 run that pushed the advantage to 74-56.
The Pacers missed nine of 12 shots and committed eight turnovers in the period to that point but the second unit came in and played with a sense of urgency behind Rush and Josh McRoberts, putting together a 14-3 run bridging the third and fourth periods to cut the gap to 77-70.
Villanueva, who had not played at all in the first three periods, dominated the fourth. His 3-pointer put the Pistons up 93-83 with 3:17 left. Tyler Hansbrough scored and the Pacers came up with two straight defensive stops but could not capitalize as slumping A.J. Price drew a pair of fouls but missed three of four free throws.
Detroit then scored the next seven, capped by another 3-pointer from Villanueva, to put it away.
BY THE NUMBERS
Rush finished 7-of-10 overall, 4-of-6 from the 3-point line, adding four rebounds and three assists to his 19 points. Hansbrough scored 16 on 7-of-12 shooting, adding eight rebounds. Danny Granger scored 14 on 5-of-14 shooting with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks and four turnovers. McRoberts had eight points, eight rebounds and five assists off the bench. The Pacers shot .474 and had 27 assists but committed 19 turnovers and missed 12 of their 19 free-throw attempts.
Hamilton scored 23 on 7-of-13 shooting to lead the Pistons, adding six assists. Rodney Stuckey had 16 points, six assists and three steals, while Villanueva and Prince had 13 apiece. Rookie Greg Monroe just missed a double-double with nine points and 13 rebounds. The Pistons shot .513 overall and were 8-of-14 (.571) from the 3-point line.
- Rush's 19 points were his most since scoring 20 against Dallas on Jan. 12. Rush has averaged 11.3 points in the last four.
- Indiana's starting lineup shot 11-of-29 and scored 25 points in the first half after shooting 7-of-32 and producing 21 points in the first half in the loss to Sacramento Friday night.
- McRoberts left the game briefly late in the second quarter after taking an elbow to the nose from a driving Will Bynum.
- Price continued to struggle with his shot. He was 2-of-8 from the field and is now 13-of-51(.255) in his last six games.
- Starting point guard Darren Collison also has slumped, going 2-of-9 Saturday and 8-of-27 in the last three.
- The loss dropped the Pacers to 17-5 against teams behind them in the Eastern Conference standings. They're 5-17 against teams ahead of them.
- Detroit was missing Tracy McGrady (sore back) and Ben Wallace (sore left knee), who missed his third straight game.
The Pacers open a three-game homestand Monday in Conseco Fieldhouse against the Boston Celtics (7 p.m., Fox Sports Indiana, WIBC 93 FM). Tickets: Buy now.