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Slow start dooms Pacers against sharpshooting Pistons, Domantas Sabonis leaves late with sprained ankle

Indiana dropped a hard-fought game to Detroit on the road. In it, the Pistons hit 18 threes, foiling comeback attempts by the Pacers. Domantas Sabonis scored 23 points before suffering an ankle sprain in the final minute.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

For the third time in four games, the Indiana Pacers found themselves down double figures in the first quarter, quickly ballooning to 17 in tonight’s game against the Detroit Pistons. The Pacers fell behind quickly after scoring the game’s opening basket, allowing a 9-0 run and by the time they managed to find themselves, the score sat at 31-14 after Luke Kennard’s second three of the quarter.

The Pistons wrapped up the first with 36 points, getting there on 7-10 from three point range. The ease in which Detroit was finding the bottom of the net from deep was a frustrating juxtaposition for the Pacers, who seemingly had to work for everything they got. Indiana climbed back to within six after seven minutes in the second quarter, but surrendered three more Detroit triples, suddenly making it a 12-point game with two minutes remaining.

That extra effort came in handy for the Pacers to close the half, getting eight straight to close the second quarter thanks to Thaddeus Young, who put in four points off of two three point misses. The Pacers scored 10 second chance points in the second, needing every single point to make it a four-point game.

Indiana would get to within three points twice in the first four minutes, but the effective shooting of Detroit was simply too much. They hit threes in response to each push, including back-to-back to take a 64-61 lead to seven at 70-63. The Pacers were actually able to respond likewise in the third, hitting a pair of threes to climb to within a point at 72-71.

From there, the Pacers had a pair of opportunities to break through into the lead, but failed to do so, allowing three offensive rebounds, which played into a technical foul situation for Nate McMillan when Domantas Sabonis was called for a foul on Blake Griffin as the two scrambled for a jump ball.

Down four, the Pacers responded, scoring the next four to finally tie the game up at 75-75. After surrendering a three to Wayne Ellington, the Pacers came back down the the floor and Wesley Matthews missed an open layup, sending Detroit the other way for two more. The Pistons would end up scoring nine straight, erasing an otherwise fantastic quarter from the Pacers, beating Indiana 29-26 in the third.

Things didn’t get much better for the Pacers in the fourth, which their own frustration coupled with fortuitous breaks for Detroit became too much to overcome. Indiana climbed as close as three, but time and time again, the game would swing back in the Pistsons’ favor on loose balls or three point shots.

Bad went to worse for the Pacers when Sabonis stepped on Andre Drummond’s foot, twisting his ankle and immediately sending him to the floor. Sabonis walked off on his own power, but was clearly in pain. After the game, McMillan said that he did come up with a sprained ankle, but the severity will be determined tomorrow.

To close out the game, the Pacers made a few pushes by challenging Detroit in the backcourt. This worked numerous times to poke the ball loose, but Indiana struggled to create possessions for themselves and came up empty when they did manage to do so. The game wrapped up at 113-109 for the Pistons, snapping Indiana’s two game winning streak.

This game became rather testy late, ramping up a playoff atmosphere that will no doubt carry over the home-and-home the teams will be playing at the beginning of April. They’re games that could be playoff previews, but while Detroit entered playing very well and could still climb into the sixth spot, losses like this will make it difficult for the Pacers to hold on to third, especially in losing a full game to Philadelphia who won tonight.

Playoff preview or not, tonight’s game was very nearly a wash in every statistical category except for perhaps the most important one: three point shooting. The Pistons wrapped up 18-41 from three point range, very nearly shooting better from deep than they did for the entire game. The Pacers meanwhile finished with just 10 makes, three of those coming in the final 70 seconds as they desperately tried to manufacture a miracle.

The 18 makes was Detroit’s third highest of the season, getting multiple makes from five different players, including five apiece from Blake Griffin and Kennard. Indiana had just two hitting multiple threes; Matthews with four and Darren Collison with three. The second unit in particular zapped Indiana’s ability to keep pace, shooting 1-6 from three.

In fact, the second unit as a whole left much to be desired. Sabonis had no trouble scoring all night, finishing with 23 points in 26 minutes, but there was only nine points scored from the rest of the bench. Doug McDermott had to five to lead a group that included a goose egg from Tyreke Evans. Evans shot 0-5, missing all four of his shots at the rim. T.J. Leaf didn’t do much better, going just 1-3 in the paint.

Bojan Bogdanovic led the way for the Pacers with 25 points, nearly half coming in the final five minutes, trying desperately to get the game within striking distance. Likewise, Collison pitched in 10 of his 21 in the closing minutes, but played a bigger role in putting the Pacers behind early with three turnovers in the first quarter.

Similar to the game against New Orleans, Indiana’s slow start was compounded due to turnovers, something they would clean up as the game went on. They actually won the turnover battle 12-11 and outscored the Pistons 19-10 in points off turnovers, but Indiana left a few turnovers on the floor, especially in the final minute.

Myles Turner returned to action, finishing with seven points and five rebounds. He played 30 minutes, but clearly looked worn out, especially in the first half after playing nearly the entire first quarter. He struggled shooting at just 3-10, but did come up big with three blocks. Yet even that positive worked against them tonight. On the season, the Pacers have recovered over 67% of Turner blocks, but tonight they came up with just a single possession change, ultimately surrendering five points off of those blocked shots.

In a vaccum, tonight’s loss isn’t all that concerning. Detroit has played some of their best basketball of the year recently and had one of their best nights from three point range on the year. However, the Pacers have to play with a real sense of urgency in order to maintain their hold of the third seed and they didn’t showcase that early enough to keep it from getting out of hand.

The severity of Sabonis’s injury becomes yet another wrinkle for the Pacers, who will wrap up their three game road trip on Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks. If this Pistons performance was them exacting revenge for an earlier loss, Indiana will be seeing the same kind of intensity from a Dallas team that is 20-10 at home.