Slam Dunked


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

White Hot

BLUE COLLAR – Slava Kravtsov has come a long way in the two-plus weeks he’s been part of the mix since Andre Drummond’s back injury opened a door for him. Growing more comfortable with the speed of the NBA game, Kravtsov contributed at both ends despite the one-sided nature of Friday’s loss. He scored six points and grabbed three rebounds in eight first-half minutes, then played the final 20 minutes of the game after replacing Greg Monroe early in the third quarter. Kravtsov racked up his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

RED FLAG – Ominous signs didn’t take long to present themselves in Indiana’s 32-point win. The Pacers wracked up 10 fast-break points in the first five minutes of the game alone in sprinting to a double-digits lead. The Pacers finished with 20 points in transition, an indication of how flat-footed they caught the Pistons. With the rematch at The Palace on Saturday, they’ll have to come out far more aggressively to have a shot at turning the tables to avoid being swept by Indiana for the season.

When Lawrence Frank preaches the mantra of becoming a “defense-first” team, the Indiana Pacers are likely what he has in mind. The Pacers drained all suspense from Friday night’s game early, smothering the Pistons in the opening minutes, converting turnovers and forced shots into easy scoring chances repeatedly.

The Pistons were down double digits barely three minutes into the game and never recovered. Frank called two timeouts in the first five minutes and went through everybody on his bench – a mere 11 players with Andre Drummond (back), Brandon Knight (knee) and Corey Maggette (illness) all watching from the locker room – by midway through the second quarter.

Nothing much changed. The Pacers kept coming, turning defense into offense, alternately raining open 3-pointers and easy chances at the rim, taking advantage of their size and brute force. The Pistons went from down 17 after one quarter to 24 at halftime to 40 by late in the third quarter in a 114-82 loss, their worst of the season.

“Look, we got out (butts) handed to us,” Frank said. “It was a total embarrassment. We talked about it before the game. We know what Indiana is all about. There’s no surprises about what they do. What they put into the game, the purpose they played with, the effort, the physicality, the passion.”

“It’s easy to explain,” Jose Calderon said. “Easier than you think. We didn’t play defense the way we were supposed to. We didn’t make shots. That’s what happened. When you get a good team like Indiana playing like that … they beat the Knicks by 30 a couple of days ago. We knew what to expect.”

The Pistons host Indiana in a Saturday rematch at The Palace. Good thing or bad thing?

“There’s no right answer, I don’t think, for that,” Kyle Singler said. “We’re playing another game tomorrow and we get a chance to bounce back from what we did today. That’s the mindset we have to have.

Indiana is the only NBA team holding opponents under 90 points a game. The Pacers are No. 1 in field-goal percentage defense overall and at the 3-point line. So it wasn’t a total stunner that the Pistons struggled to get quality shots or wound up shooting 35.4 percent.

What was a little hard to swallow was the ease with which Indiana scored. The Pacers, after all, rank near the bottom of the NBA in most offensive categories, including scoring (27th) and shooting accuracy (28th in overall percentage, 19th from the 3-point line).

But they shot nearly 70 percent in a 34-point first quarter and over 60 percent in a 60-point first half.

“I think their first 23 points, they only had to run three half-court sets,” Frank said. “This isn’t a team that lives and dies by the fast break, but they obviously saw we weren’t making the effort to get back – 18 points in the paint of their first 25 or 26, the amount of times their head is on the rim.”

The lopsided game gave Frank plenty of chances to use the three rookies who’d been buried at the end of the bench for most of the season. Slava Kravtsov, in particular, continues to give the Pistons reason to be optimistic that he can serve as a quality backup to Andre Drummond at center next season should they decide to make Greg Monroe’s move to power forward permanent.

Frank went quickly to Kravtsov and Khris Middleton early in the third quarter and they finished the final 20-plus minutes of the game. Kim English came on later in the quarter and also went the distance. Kravtsov recorded his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Middleton’s 24 minutes were more than twice his previous best as he set a new high with 10 points points.

Frank said he wasn’t sending messages by pulling Monroe – it was the Pacers doing the talking.

“The message was sent when we were getting drilled by 40,” he said. “There’s one guy, to me, you could legitimately say all the minutes he was on the floor played hard – that’s Slava. He didn’t necessarily play great, but he played hard. Everyone could see that. When you could pick one guy, it’s not good. This is a game where there’s no substitute for effort and competing.”

The Pistons have come up against two of the NBA’s elite defenses this week and got overpowered by both Memphis and Indiana. They slipped a solid road win at Charlotte between those games. But they’ll be looking to prove something to themselves in Saturday’s rematch with the Pacers.

“This is a great test for us tomorrow,” Frank said. “You get the same team – the same guys who kicked our tail today – you get ’em 24 hours later.”

“The only positive part is we’ve got to show tomorrow that we’re not this kind of team,” Calderon said. “It happens sometimes, but we have to be a little more solid. We have to play a little bit better.”