A Good Battle

Pistons leave Indiana wondering what might’ve been after narrow loss


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

WHITE HOT – Paul George scored 17 of his 27 points in the second half as the Indiana Pacers, in a race with Miami for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs, held off the Pistons 101-94. The Pistons got off to a fast start and led by nine points in the first quarter and came back from eight down in the third quarter to lead by one entering the fourth. Josh Smith scored 15 first-quarter points and finished with 24, while Greg Monroe put up 17 points and 16 rebounds for the Pistons. Andre Drummond added 13 points and 14 rebounds.

BLUE COLLAR – Brandon Jennings has had numerous better shooting and scoring nights, but when he saw the success Josh Smith and Greg Monroe were having early he focused on distributing the ball. He did just that and took care of the ball, finishing with nine assists and just one turnover. On a night the Pistons shot just 37 percent, they managed to stay close throughout by not giving away possessions, finishing with just six team turnovers with Jennings on the floor for 35 minutes. He made a shrewd play midway through the fourth quarter in drawing three free throws while being fouled outside the 3-point arc and later hit a big triple that pulled the Pistons within a point.

RED FLAG – Foul trouble prevented the Pistons from sustaining the momentum they gathered in taking their early nine-point lead. Andre Drummond barely lasted two minutes into the game before heading to the bench. When Greg Monroe joined him there with two fouls eight minutes into the game – with the Pistons leading 23-14 at the time and Monroe particularly troublesome for the Pacers – Charlie Villanueva had to provide fill-in minutes at center. Indiana outscored the Pistons 14-4 in a four-minute stretch to lead by one after a quarter.

INDIANAPOLIS – The Pistons might take bruised egos out of this season, but they most certainly will take bruised shins – from kicking themselves. They left Indiana after Wednesday’s thoroughly bruising loss wondering what might have been.

What might have been, it appears, was a chance to make history. The Pistons, all but officially out of the playoff race, know that they should be solidly in the field, no worse than the No. 7 or 8 seed. And, given the way they match up with either of the two teams certain to nail down 1 and 2, the Pistons would have at the very least drawn their attention.

The Pistons left Indiana feeling that the mile-wide gap between these teams’ records – the Pacers 30 games over .500 at 53-23, the Pistons 21 games under at .27-48 – doesn’t accurately reflect the disparity in their rosters.

“Definitely,” Greg Monroe said after the 101-94 loss Wednesday, a game that came down to the last minute and an agonizingly long Indiana possession. “But there’s no moral victories. We have to show how good we are in the win column.”

The win column gave the Pistons just one pat on the back in four tries against the Pacers, a December road victory in which Josh Smith scored 30 points and the Pistons matched Indiana, grinding possession for grinding possession. Their two home losses to Indiana were both games they could have won – in fact, they led by 25 points before losing in overtime in one of them – but this one most resembled that December win.

" I can’t fault the way our guys played, they competed their butts off against the best team in the East."

- John Loyer on the game
Full game quotes

Smith again started off sizzling, scoring 15 first-quarter points and 11 straight after Monroe got the Pistons on the board with a bucket. By the time Monroe picked up his second foul with four minutes left in the first quarter, the Pistons were up by nine and had pounded the league’s best defensive team for 23 points already.

“Josh definitely had it going as far as being aggressive and scoring and I had a pretty good game going myself,” Monroe said. “When I went out, it probably changed the game.”

Yup. But if scoring points would never again come easy over the final 40 minutes for the Pistons, neither did they let the Pacers go crazy. Indiana went from five down to five up with a 10-0 run in the second quarter, but the Pistons went into the fourth quarter ahead by a point.

They trailed by one with three minutes to play after a wild sequence that started with a Paul George triple and ended with a matching three from Brandon Jennings. George’s came when he fired up a panicked shot, urged by teammates to launch because the shot clock was about to expire – erroneously, failing to reset in a timely manner after Roy Hibbert had redirected an offensive rebound.

“A big play in the game,” John Loyer said. “I thought down the stretch our guys did a fabulous job guarding out on the perimeter. We made them take – and a few made – tough shots. But down the stretch, you’ve got to rebound the basketball. It wasn’t a first-possession or first-catch shots that beat us. (George’s shot) was kind of a lucky one, but there were a couple more, if you secure that rebound, you’re right in the game and we’ve got to get better at that.”

The sequence that defined the night started with 1:20 left. After Smith split a pair of foul shots that left the Pistons down by five, the Pacers forced them to play almost a minute of defense. Hibbert missed a jump shot late in the shot clock but David West bought another 24 seconds by back-tapping the rebound. Paul George missed a triple late in the clock again, but the ball eluded Andre Drummond’s fingertips as he knocked it out of bounds. The Pistons and Pacers were dead even on the glass, 47 each, but the big rebounds when it mattered fell in Indiana hands.

“In those situations, all we can do is learn from it,” said Smith, who flashed an exaggerated grimace as West reached around him to keep the initial rebound alive on the critical extended possession. “When you come down the stretch and you grind so hard defensively, you have to be able to make sure you find a body on guys so you won’t be able to give up any second-chance opportunities.”

Smith, Monroe and Drummond matched Indiana’s physical frontcourt and then some, combining for 54 points and 35 rebounds. Brandon Jennings took care of the ball so well – the Pistons committed just six turnovers – that despite their 37 percent they never trailed by more than eight points.

That was the recipe they envisioned when they put the team together last summer. In flashes, they’ve shown it can work against the very best teams in the league – and certainly against the two teams that established themselves as the class of the East from the season opener on. But they left Indiana knowing history won’t care at all about any of that.

“We played ’em well,” Smith said. “But, you know, I think we only won one game against them. So playing ’em tough really doesn’t matter if you don’t get the win.”