The Indiana Pacers fell just short of winning in Detroit on Friday night, just like the potential game-tying shot in the lane T.J. Ford missed which sealed the win for the Pistons, 114-110.
Tell me if you've heard this one before. The Pacers battled throughout the game, and for the most part did a nice job of moving the ball on offense and getting buckets in the lane.
Wait. Did you catch that qualifier?
"For the most part" means I'm leaving room to talk about the "parts" that contributed to the loss. Any guesses what hurt the Pacers badly tonight?
Free throw differential? Nope. Good guess, but not tonight. The Pacers were 26-29 from the line compared to 21-27 for the Pistons. Remember, the Pacers were getting the ball into the lane which leads to easy buckets, shooters developing a rhythm and more foul shots. Check, check and check.
Poor shooting? Come on, now. I already mentioned all the easy buckets. Nope, the Pacers shot 56.5% from the field and 43% from 3-land. Far better effort than Wednesday at Toronto.
Defense? Now you're getting warm. In fact, the Pacers' inability to slow down the Pistons hurt them all night. Their failure to get key stops late in the game really hurt. With 3:20 left in the game, Allen Iverson missed a shot and the Pacers had the ball and a 103-101 lead. After the ensuing possession melted away when T.J. Ford's jumper bounced up over the backboard, the Pistons went on a 6-0 run and would close the game scoring on seven of their last eight possessions. The Pacers just couldn't grind out a stop to salvage the game.
Turnovers? Ding ding. I almost hesitate to write about turnovers yet again. They're becoming a given. Everyone should just assume the Pacers will turn it over 20 times going into a game and then I'll make a note if they come out with less. The Pacers notched their 20 tonight and it seemed like the Pistons cashed them all in for points. They didn't, it just felt that way. The Pacers hung around early despite 10 (TEN!!!) first quarter turnovers. I'll tell you how well Danny Granger played in a minute but first a gripe. Granger and Rasho Nesterovic had six turnovers each, most by trying to force passes with a poor angle or just poor execution. Maddening.
Aside from the turnovers, Danny was a monster tonight. After coming up short on a few early perimeter shots, Granger went into the lane and worked his way back out. He was able to get to the line, hit a couple of ten footers and eventually catch fire in the second half. And catch fire he did, finishing with a career-high 42 points on 13-21 shots. That's a nice night of scoring, my friends. He also pitched in six assists and seven rebounds for good measure.
So why did T.J. Ford take the final shot with a chance to tie? Good question. Once again, with the game in the balance, T.J. had the ball and Danny was just out on the wing easily covered, this time by Tayshaun Prince. Now, I realize the strategy worked and the execution just came up short, literally. Ford ended up with an off-balance but clean, open look from five feet. On the prior possession, the out of bounds play put the ball in Granger's hands. They gave him the layup and he took it. Why not go to Granger again? Or at least try?
Yes, the frustration is palpable but in reality the Pacers put up a strong effort tonight on the road. They struggled all night to get over the hump as the Pistons lead fluctuated between six and 12. But things changed with a little Jeff Foster love tap. Rodney Stuckey hadn't missed a shot all night, including 4 3-balls. He goes to the hoop and gets the bucket and the harm, but Foster hit him pretty good across the face. No easy buckets at the hoop, youngin'. Stuckey took exception and was T'd up. He also missed the ensuing free throw and his next 3-ball attempt. The Pacers would soon tie things up and even take a lead.
If this loss wasn't the fifth in a row and tenth in the last twelve games, I'd be more excited about the play of the team. But it was an important opportunity for a win that the Pacers let slip away. Jim O'Brien showed how much he wanted this one by tightening up his rotation and playing just eight players and the eighth, Brandon Rush, played less than ten minutes. But 7-15 is no joke and it hurts worse after a tight game goes the wrong way.