Beard: No 'Malice,' but Pistons sticking up for themselves
Indianapolis — Stephen Jackson and Ben Wallace have long ago retired.
Ron Artest was far away in Los Angeles — not even close to relaxing on the scorer's table.
None of the other luminaries from the "Malice at the Palace" were from 2004 were anywhere near Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The minor fracas between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers on Saturday night was nowhere near the magnitude of the infamous brawl between the two teams more than a decade ago in Detroit.
Marcus Morris' playground shove of the Pacers' Paul George barely moves the needles on sports donnybrooks. The benches cleared, but it was more posturing than anything physical.
The only thing the two incidents have in common is that the same two teams were involved.
The takeaway from Saturday night's game, a 94-82 loss by the Pistons, should be that the Pistons have some fight in them.
The good kind.
They played one of their worst offensive games of the season, hitting just 35.5 percent from the field, and struggling to put together any kind of offense.
That they trailed by only two points in the final minutes — before George scored the Pacers' final 21 points in the last five minutes — is a victory in itself. The starting lineup has struggled to play well together and the bench has been the saving grace in the last few games.
But the Pistons fought to the bitter end, even when they trailed by double figures in the final minute. Andre Drummond played solid defense in trying to get a loose ball. Morris played George close right to the final buzzer.
It's an important step for a franchise that has missed the playoffs each of the past six seasons and is learning to be tough on the court — all the way to the final buzzer.
"We kept fighting, even though the game was kind of out of hand," said Drummond, who had 11 points and 18 rebounds. "We didn't lay down — which is why the game got pretty chippy at the end.
"We weren't going to allow them to keep beating up on us. We were going to keep fighting and try to make it as respectable as possible."
There haven't been very many blowouts this season — wins or losses — and just keeping games close is a step in the right direction for the Pistons, who don't have a starter over the age of 28. Two starters, Morris and Ersan Ilyasova are new to the team this season.
There's a lot of learning and bonding to be done. Sticking up for each other — even in a minor scrum — is a step. Learning not to get pushed around is part of it. Learning to push back is another.
"It was physical most of the game. Sometimes we felt like we were going to basket and we didn't get a call here or there then we would come down and retaliate, too," Pistons guard Brandon Jennings said. "It was chippy and then Paul got it going and toward the end, we kept playing and you know how it gets sometimes."
Even coach Stan Van Gundy tried to make a statement.
He was ejected with 22.6 seconds left in the game, unhappy with the officials' calls — and possibly looking to send a message both to his young team and to the referees.
"I said something that obviously offended the official; I just said something they didn't like," he said.
But more than that, Van Gundy was happy he got a more complete effort from his team. They were right in it to the end, despite the poor shooting night.
His technical fouls weren't about motivating his guys; it was more protecting them from getting the short end of some bad calls.
"We didn't need to light a fire; our guys played hard. I was actually a lot happier with them tonight than I have been any time in the last five games, including the Minnesota game," Van Gundy said. "I thought we played really hard defensively; we only turned it over 10 times."
It counts as a loss, but what happened in the final seconds — the technical and the small gathering after the buzzer — might pay bigger dividends than 47 minutes before it.
And there's no malice in that.