Pacers head to Miami after 101-96 loss to Pistons

Detroit threw a surprise road block in Indiana’s path to the

Eastern Conference’s top seed.

Now the Pacers face another daunting task – winning at Miami to

avoid their first losing streak of the season.

Josh Smith scored 30 points, Brandon Jennings added 18 and Greg

Monroe finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds to help the Pistons

stun Indiana 101-96 Monday night and hand the Pacers their first

home defeat this season.

”We’re going to have a target on our back all year,” Pacers

guard George Hill said. ”We’ve had some success so far, so we’re

taking everyone’s best shot and today we didn’t come to play.”

It was evident right from the start that this was not the same

Indiana team that set a franchise record by starting 9-0 overall

and another by opening the season 11-0 at home.

Some wondered before the game whether the Pacers (20-4) might

get caught looking past the Pistons (12-14), who have won two of

their last six, and ahead to Wednesday night’s marquee rematch with

Miami. Indiana defeated the two-time defending champs 99-94 in Indy

last week and heads to South Beach for the first time since losing

Game 7 of the conference finals in June.

Coach Frank Vogel downplayed the notion Indiana was distracted,

saying before and after the game that his team was not ”looking

ahead at all.”

On the court, though, the Pacers did not play their game.

The Pistons were tougher inside, tougher on defense and tougher

at fending off challenges. And the Eastern Conference’s top team

looked like anything but as Detroit played almost flawlessly and

beat Indiana at its own game by dominating the middle.

”It’s impressive the way we came in and competed with the way

the Pacers have been playing,” Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said.

”We have a good basketball team.”

The Pistons held a 55-40 rebounding advantage and a lopsided

20-9 edge on offensive rebounds, something Paul George contended

threw the Pacers off.

Detroit also outscored Indiana 44-38 in the paint and 22-14 on

second-chance points while shooting 43.2 percent from the field,

the same as Indiana.

For a Pacers team that prides itself on defense and rebounding,

it wasn’t even close to their best as they tuned up for Miami.

Indiana never tied the score in the second half and never took

the lead on its home floor, falling to the second-best record in

the league, percentage points behind Portland (21-4).

The Pistons knew that to end their six-game losing streak in

this series and their nine-game losing streak at Bankers Life

Fieldhouse they had to execute the game plan flawlessly. They

did.

Meanwhile, Miami faced its own unexpected challenge Monday night

when struggling Utah played better than advertised in the first

half. Unlike the Pacers, though, Miami seized control over the

final two quarters and pulled away for a 117-94 win.

Whatever the explanation, Indiana wasn’t the same.

Paul George was 4 of 14 from the field, finishing with 17

points, nine rebounds and four turnovers. Roy Hibbert had six

points and four rebounds. Even the energetic Lance Stephenson

couldn’t get his flustered teammates righted. Stephenson scored a

career best 23 points and Luis Scola added a season high 18.

When asked if he was looking forward to the rematch, George

said: ”I am. The good thing about the NBA is the quick

turnarounds.”

And there is plenty to work on after Monday’s stunner.

Detroit used a 10-3 first quarter run to take a 23-14 lead and

never trailed thereafter.

Even in the second half, when the Pacers typically dominate, the

Pistons refused fold.

Detroit scored the last eight points of the first half to take a

57-49 lead. Then Smith scored Detroit’s first eight points in the

second half, and the surging Pistons took advantage of Indiana’s

growing frustration by extending the lead to 72-61 on Brandon

Jennings’ layup with 5:20 left in the third quarter. Jennings

finished with 18 points and eight assists.

Indiana rallied again, getting within 79-73 after three, but the

Pistons answered with a 7-2 spurt that made it 89-79 with 7:01 to

go. Scola’s layup with 4:55 remaining ended an 8-0 run that got the

Pacers as close as 89-87, but the Pistons ran off five straight

points.

Stephenson gave it one final push, hitting a 3 with 1:17 to go

to cut Detroit’s lead to 96-94, but the Pistons closed it out at

the free-throw line.

”We had a lot of confidence coming in here tonight. We played

Portland (Sunday) night in a game we should have won,” Jennings

said. ”Tonight we knew were playing the best team in the Eastern

Conference and we were able to give them their first home

loss.”

NOTES: Indiana is the NBA’s only team that has not been in a

game decided by fewer than five points. … Guard Chauncey Billups

was inactive for the Pistons. … Vogel said swingman Danny Granger

is on track to return to the lineup Friday night against Houston.

He has not played this season because of a strained left calf. …

Indiana fell to 10-3 when trailing at halftime.