The Indiana Pacers just didn't have it tonight, and the Detroit Pistons simply wanted it a lot more. The result? A 101-96 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, handing the Pacers their first home defeat of the season and dropping them to 20-4. It also means the Pacers are no longer "the best team in the NBA", as Portland now has the best record with 21-4.
How did this loss happen? A lot of reasons. The Pacers were likely looking past the Pistons tonight, a team they had already beaten this season on the road. They have a Miami grudge match coming up on Wednesday, and they probably didn't think the Pistons would pose a threat as they were coming in on the second night of a back-to-back, in which they lost a heatbreaker against Portland in OT. The Pacers were undefeated at home and Detroit had not won in Indiana since 2008, and they were fooled into believing that the trend would continue.
Instead, the Pistons had more energy right from the outset and outhustled the Pacers to what seemed like every single loose ball. The Pacers got destroyed on the rebounds, 55-40, and gave up an unacceptable 20 offensive rebounds. Some of those just bounced the Pistons' way, but many others were 50-50 balls that the Pistons simply wanted more.
Still, the Pacers had chances in this game. They were within 2 points with over 4 minutes to go and all the momentum on their side, but Brandon Jennings ran down the shot clock and hit a massive three in Paul George's face to stretch the lead to 5. Lance Stephenson gave the Pacers another chance when he made two free throws then a big three to put the Pacers within 2 again with 1:16 left in the game, but Josh Smith received a favorable call against Hibbert on the next play and made 2 big free throws to up the lead back to 4. On the next play, David West appeared to have an open layup at the rim until Josh Smith came out of nowhere and blocked the shot from behind. Jennings then missed a three, but the Pistons managed to grab the offensive rebound (again) and closed out the game from the free throw line from there.
The Pistons didn't steal this game from the Pacers though -- they earned it. The Pacers were flat out outplayed, and if it weren't for Lance Stephenson's regular season career high 23 points (9-14 shooting to go with 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 0 turnovers) and Luis Scola's 18 points on 8-11 shooting off the bench, this game would have been a blowout.
The Pacers defense, declared one of the best ever, has shown signs of slippage as of late. This month, they've given up more than 100 points in 5 of their 8 games, and 3 of those have been losses. This one against the Pistons is the first time they've given up 100+ at home.
Paul George is showing signs of fatigue and teams appear to be adjusting to his game a lot better. He had just 17 points on just 4-14 shooting tonight after scoring a season low of just 10 in the previous game against the Bobcats. He did have 9 rebounds and 4 assists, but also 4 turnovers, and he just seemed a lot less confident in his shot than he was last month, when he won the NBA Player of the Month Award. His defense has also suffered, losing guys off cuts and getting beat up down low. Josh Smith had a monster night against him with 30 points and 7 rebounds.
Roy Hibbert's play has been erratic, and while he remains the best rim protector in the league, his offense has been ugly. He laid an egg tonight, no doubt about it, with 6 points and 4 rebounds in 35 minutes on a pathetic 2-12 shooting. The Pacers will need Roy to find his offense against the Heat on Wednesday or the game could turn ugly.
George Hill, on the other hand, has been lackluster too. He's had 3 single-digit scoring games in the last 4 games, and it's not like he's getting many assists either.
In short, the Pacers could be in a bit of trouble. Well, not serious trouble, just the type of usual adversity a team will have to face throughout the course of a long season. Everything has been so rosy thus far, perhaps a little too much so, and maybe the team needed a loss like this to the Pistons to refocus and find its identity again.
In this day and age, the outcome of every single game feels like it's overblown, so I wouldn't look too much into this loss. But what it does mean is that the Pacers could very well be facing consecutive losses for the first time this season when they visit Miami, who will be eager to avenge a loss last week in Indiana. And that's not all. On Friday the Pacers will face Houston, a team that's been uneven but dismantled them twice in the preseason. If the Pacers don't get their act together soon it could become 3 losses in a row, something that would undo much of the good work they did in building a lead over Miami in the standings so far this season.