Pistons' defense fails them in loss to Pacers

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — Looking at the box score, the Pistons could feel like they had a pretty successful night against one of the Eastern Conference's best defensive teams, the Indiana Pacers.

They shot nearly 50 percent, nailed 12 3-pointers at a 50 percent clip and had seven players score in double figures while playing under control, committing just 10 turnovers.

But they let their old habits come back to bite them, on the defensive end, as all of that offensive goodness went to waste against a hobbled team scrambling to stay in the playoff picture.

The Pacers got everything they wanted and got it a little easier than the Pistons, winning 114-109 Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, leaving Stan Van Gundy less than pleased about a defensive effort that gave up 72 percent shooting in the second half.

"Virtually no resistance whatsoever," Van Gundy said. "It's nice that we've made offensive improvement but we have no collective defensive mentality right now. If we want to be good, and we've gotten a lot better, we have to develop some intensity on the defensive end."

In the past couple of weeks, they've given up 114 to Toronto in a close loss, 118 to Orlando in a win and Wednesday's porous showing. Having Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond combine for 34 points and 25 rebounds usually produces the kind of effect that results in wins, but in a game where the first team to play defense would win, the Pistons were late to that party, too.

"Virtually everybody in the locker room judges themselves by how they play offensively," Van Gundy said. "Everybody cares about their offense but I didn't see anybody out there who really cared about getting stops."

Perhaps a couple of 84-80 slugfests would do this Pistons team some good, if Van Gundy's sentiments about their thought process holds true. But even good teams get lulled into believing good offense means a good night.

"I've played on contenders like that, where you get a flow of a game and you get derailed," veteran forward Caron Butler said. "You have to have a sense of pride on the defensive end, 'I'm not gonna let this guy score on me' or 'I'm gonna be there for my teammate.' That comes along."

On a night where the Pacers wore uniforms that harkened back to their rough-and-tumble past — their close-but-no-cigar days of the mid-90s — they put together an offensive display that would've made their predecessors blush.

Roy Hibbert and David West matched Drummond and Monroe's production, as Hibbert scored 16 with 12 rebounds and three blocks while West scored 14 with seven rebounds — clearing the way for point guard George Hill to score 20 with six assists in 26 minutes.

They didn't have to do much defensively to beat the Pistons, but made two critical plays that either turned momentum or closed the door on a Pistons' run in the final minutes.

With the Pistons trailing by four, Pistons point guard D.J. Augustin was unexpectedly trapped at midcourt and tried to dump it off to Jodie Meeks but Pacers swingman C.J. Miles stepped in for a steal with 13.6 seconds left, getting fouled.

Mileshit consecutive 3-pointers after the game was tied at 96 with five minutes left — as the Pistons' defensive woes were exacerbated by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope unable to go after the first three minutes with a sore right Achilles, due to an injury Tuesday against Miami.

A couple of possessions earlier, with the Pistons in need of a bucket to keep the Pacers feeling the pressure, West stripped Butler and the wily veteran streaked downcourt for an uncontested dunk, leaving Butler with a wry smile after getting caught by a fellow experienced player with a move he likely would've used on an unsuspecting soul.

"They had a nice deflection at the end — and actually (another one) on my turnovers," Butler said. "I knew he wasn't gonna follow me after my fake, he just got me from behind."

West's dunk with 2:58 left gave the Pacers a six-point lead, and although the Pistons kept fighting back after slow starts, coming back from 12-point deficits in each half, they couldn't do anything besides make the Pacers sweat a bit — as there would be no late miracles.

After the Pistons' bench stretch of defense was anchored by Joel Anthony with four minutes left in the first half, they came away with a 49-48 lead that didn't hold.

A 22-9 start to the third quarter by the Pacers left the Pistons with just one ally — the 3-pointer. They made their first five from long range while their defense played catchup — which didn't last after hot starts to the first and third quarters for the Pacers.

The usually anemic Pacers shot 14 of 18 (77 percent) in the third, setting the stage for both to shoot the lights out in the fourth.

"This was kind of a hit-or-miss game," Butler said. "Like Coach said, the first time that decides they're gonna get stops is gonna win this game. And obviously they decided to do that. We gotta be better."