The Indiana Pacers scrapped and battled for 48 minutes but could never escape from under the thumb of the Detroit Pistons who took advantage of every Pacer miscue, led throughout the second half and enjoyed their home opener with a 100-94 win.
The Pistons weren't as special as they were business-like. I hate to use the term workman-like because they didn't even seem to get their hands dirty. I must say, my game preview nailed the difference in this game. Whenever the Pacers burped up a turnover or missed a good open look, the Pistons made it hurt by converting at the other end. Just too many wasted opportunities.
No better example than a critical fourth quarter play as the Pacers were fighting their way back into the game having just closed within five points at 86-81. With a little over three minutes left in the game the Pacers get a stop, Troy Murphy outlets to Jarrett Jack who ends up taking the ball to the hoop but missing a challenged layup. Chauncey Billups wasted no time killing that rally, hitting an open 3-ball in transition. Potential three point game is eight in a blink of an eye.
On a positive note, the Pacers played some real solid stretches of basketball throughout the game. Jim O'Brien seemed to be searching for the right player combination all night. Figuring out the best way to expose matchups will be a work in progress in the early part of the season.
One hindsight quibble is the use of Jarrett Jack for the bulk of the fourth quarter. I realize he's a better defensive matchup with Billups because of his size, but he struggled offensively. T.J. Ford is usually going to be at a size disadvantage on defense, but what about his ability to create a positive mismatch at the offensive end? Ford and Jack did play together quite a bit as JOB didn't hesitate to go small with Danny at PF and Murph at C.
Yep, there are plenty of kinks to iron out, but there is no faulting the effort and there was plenty of solid play to hang onto for a positive future outlook.
Other quick thoughts:
- T.J. Ford dropped a nice pass to Rasho Nesterovic for first bucket of the season.
- Roy Hibbert's first bucket was the result of a sweet baseline spin move and reverse layup. When the Pacers selected Hibbert back in June, I never thought I'd see that type of play from the big fella on opening night. Hibbert played a decent stretch in the first half finishing with the two points and a block. He didn't play in the second half.
- Brandon Rush had a strong finish and one for his first NBA points after he took the ball coast to coast on the break. Rush found a comfort zone late in the second half and showed some flashes of a player who can create his own shot and heat up in a hurry. He also played critical stretch minutes in the fourth quarter at one point suffocating Rip Hamilton and forcing an errant shot. Real strong debut for Rush.
- Danny Granger scored the easiest 33 points of his career. I'm sure he'd laugh out loud if he heard that because he was grinding the whole game. I say easy because he did grind it out and cashed in a lot of sugar from the line. There were still times when he seemed to have the blinders on and the ball was going up no matter what, but with Dunleavy out, Granger had to take that scoring load on his shoulders. I'd wouldn't mind seeing him take it down a notch and get Rush more involved, but it was nice to see Danny find his shooting touch for the regular season.
- The Pacers shot 24 fewer FGAs than the Pistons which seems crazy. When the offense was clunky it was usually tied up with someone hanging onto the ball trying to make a move. Murphy and Granger were caught doing this several times. The offense flows and good open looks develop when both the players and ball continue to move. Only takes one player to grind the thing to a halt.
Troy Murphy didn't shoot the ball real well but his defense was solid and he hit the glass hard finishing with 13 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Nice.
- Two annoying things about last year's team was how they were torched in FT disparity most nights and the fact that they had (or at least it seemed like it) 3 or 4 illegal defense calls per game. Tonight there was one illegal defense and that was rookie Brandon Rush getting caught in no man's land. As for the free throws, the Pacers nearly doubled the Pistons shots from the line. The Pistons padded their FT totals by sealing the W at the line late in the game.
- The Pistons box score always kill me and tonight was no different. They scored 100 points, won the game yet at first glance their box looks like they scored 83 and lost. Nothing ever sticks out. You have to dig around in the numbers before you start nodding your head, realizing where they seized and advantage. Turnovers and 3-ball efficiency was all they needed tonight.