Pistons struggle to score inside in 124-115 loss to Pacers

Mike Curtis
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — The Pistons and Pacers were in two similar positions ahead of their first matchup of the season.

The longtime divisional rivals were playing the second game of their first back-to-back of the season. And both teams were desperately seeking a win after losing on Friday night.

The Pacers, losers of two straight, were looking for their first win. And the Pistons were coming off a 24-point loss to the Knicks.

Indiana Pacers forward Isaiah Jackson (22) shoots during the first half.

It was a physical and chippy game as Indiana (1-2) used a combination of scintillating defense, interior scoring and timely 3-pointers to hand Detroit (1-2) a 124-115 loss on Saturday.

The Pacers made it extremely difficult for Detroit to execute inside the paint, blocking shot after shot, sometimes multiple rejections on the same possession. Indiana finished with 15 blocks and seven steals.

"When we're penetrating, it's one of those things when we do a good job of getting paint touches, but then the decisions once we get in there," Pistons coach Dwane Casey said after the game. "When we drive in there, we tried to challenge two seven-footers. It starts their break and it kind of fed in each other."

Cade Cunningham, who led the Pistons with 22 points, four rebounds and four assists, drilled his first two 3-pointers of the game before he was sidelined due to early foul trouble. He didn't find his rhythm again until the fourth quarter as he led the charge, bringing Detroit back from an 11-point deficit. The second-year guard scored 12 of the Pistons' 36 points in the final frame, but Indiana continued to make shots to distance themselves for their first win of the season.

For the latter part of the first half, the Pistons didn't look like a team that just lost by 24 the night before. After their slow start on Friday, the Pistons entered the game more assertive and scored 35 in the first quarter. The scoring burst was made possible by their ability to connect from the 3-point line, making 6-of-12 in the opening period.

The Pistons led by 14 in the first quarter, but couldn't hold the lead as the Pacers fought back with timely 3-pointers. The Pacers were led by rookie forward Bennedict Mathurin — the No. 6 overall pick in this year's draft — who had 27 points and seven rebounds off the bench. He also connected on 5-of-8 from 3-point land.

Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey gestures during the first half.

The Pacers also beat the Pistons in points in the paint, 48-36, and bench scoring, 60-29.

Joining Mathurin among the Pacers' top scorers was guard Tyrese Haliburton, who finished with 24 points, four rebounds and 10 assists. Jalen Smith was dominant on the interior as he racked up 19 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.

The Pistons had three players tally a double-double: Saddiq Bey (20 points, 11 rebounds), Isaiah Stewart (11 points, 16 rebounds) and Jaden Ivey (17 points, 11 rebounds).

BOX SCORE: Pacers 124, Pistons 115

"He'll learn once he gets in there because he has the ability to get in there, but now what?" Casey said. "I love his game. He's going to be a great player in our league for a long time. He's gotta go through the growing pains of learning."

Ivey, who was selected right before Mathurin with the No. 5 overall pick, recorded his first career double-double in front of his home-state Indiana crowd. He totaled 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, but struggled to take care of the ball with a game-high five turnovers.

Bojan Bogdanovic, who spent two seasons with the Pacers from 2017-19, totaled 16 points and five assists.

The Pistons came up short in their first of three back-to-backs over the first eight games. They will conclude their three-game trip looking for a win on Tuesday against the Washington Wizards (2-0), the first game of their next back-to-back that concludes with a home matchup with Atlanta on Wednesday.


Twitter: @MikeACurtis2