Indiana Pacers 107, Detroit Pistons 83
I realize that Pacer fans are clinging to the idea of all the cap room that is coming after next season like a castaway to a life raft, but they need look no further than our former rivals to see that it’s no magic cure. The Pistons traded away Chauncey Billups last season, effectively ending an era. The deal brought back Allen Iverson, which was a win-win situation in Joe Dumars’ eyes. If Iverson worked out, they’d have a prime time scorer that could help them in the playoffs. If not, his $20+ million contract would expire, leaving them ample cap room going into last summer.
Well, it was the latter, rather than the former, and the Detroit Pistons got to go on a shopping spree last summer. Christmas in July. Piston fans woke up to find Ben Gordon (5/$58 million), Charlie Villaneuva (5/$38 million) under the tree, and Chris Wilcox and Ben Wallace as stocking stuffers. Now, I’m clearly not a Piston fan, but to me, this would have been like expecting a shiny new bike, and getting a nice sweater.
Or perhaps Jack trading the cow for magic beans would be a more apt simile. I don’t know. In any case, Pacer fans have now seen 8 quarters of the new Detroit Pistons. In those 8 quarters, this Piston team has been, to be kind, spectacularly bad. The Pacers led last night by as many 31 points points. In Detroit last month, they led by as many as 23 points. Against the Pacers, the Pistons have been incompetent offensively (averaging 88 points on .416 eFG%) and incompetent defensively (allowing 108 points on .558 eFG%).
True, two games is a small sample size, but it’s a miserable performance against a Pacer team that Pacer fans, after watching 200 quarters, have come to acknowledge as, ummm, spectacularly bad. Also, I’d add the three or four other Piston games I’ve seen, along with their overall record of 16-32, to the existing evidence and rest my case on Detroit being a pretty bad team. Sure, they’ve had some injuries, but you can’t tell me that Charlie Villanueva was going to make a difference last night. Besides, they’re 8-21 with Ben Gordon and 8-11 without him. And again, it is impossible to adequately describe just how easily the Pacers have handled the Pistons in their two meetings this year.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that they’ll be bad forever. Gordon has some serious scoring chops, and their rookie Jerebko looks like a real keeper. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that spending their money on Gordon and Villanueva was a mistake, though I believe it was. It should simply serve as an object lesson to Pacer fans. Having cap space is good, but you still have to (a) make the right decisions and (b) have it at a time when there are valuable assets available on which to use it. The turnaround won’t be complete in 2011. The sun won’t suddenly burst through the clouds, bringing warmth and happiness to a weary Pacer nation. In many ways, 2011 will be the beginning, not the end. We should be prepared for that.
Five Other Things
- Hey, I remember him – T.J. Ford made his first appearance since December 30th last night, getting backup minutes due to Earl Watson’s absence. (Our condolences go out to Earl and his family over the loss of his grandmother.) There appeared to be no rust on his game, as he scored 11 points and dealt out 5 assists. He was 4-for-4 from the floor in the first half, and got a huge cheer when he nailed just his second three pointer of the season. He was manning the point as the Pacers finished the first half on a 14-2 run to break open the game. He’ll get time again tonight in Milwaukee, but it’s an open question as to whether he’ll see time after Watson’s return. I may not be a huge fan of his game, but I am a huge fan of his professionalism. He came here with a reputation of being something of a pouter. T.J. responded well last season to being replaced by Jarrett Jack, and to all appearances, he’s been a model teammate during these very difficult times.
- A.J. gets his first start – When you draft somebody 52nd overall, the harsh truth is that you’re not even sure he’ll be able to make the roster. However, the Pacers certainly have gotten value out of the 6’2″ Husky. Though it’s certainly no Lou-Gehrig-for-Wally-Pipp situation, A.J. Price acquitted himself nicely last night. As the 26th different Pacer to get the starting nod in Jim O’Brien’s tenure, Price added 4 rebounds and 4 assists to his 8 points in 25 minutes of game time. Since January 1st, he’s averaged 9.7 points and 2.4 assists in just under 20 minutes a night. After struggling early, his shooting eye has returned, and he’s hit almost 48% of his threes (22-for-46) over the last seven games. He’ll start again tonight, but will likely return to his reserve role when Earl returns.
- Obie back on the bench – Lester Conner drew rave reviews after Tuesday’s win over Toronto for his substitute role as head coach. I was interested to see what would happen with O’Brien back in charge. Early on, Mike Wells (@Wells222) tweeted “Seems like O’Brien has called more plays in 14 minutes than Conner did the entire game Tuesday.” However, there was no collapse. The team played hard and well, and the ball movement was excellent for most of the evening. As I’ve said before, I actually think O’Brien is a pretty decent coach. However, he has shown signs of desperation, and it does appear to an outside observer that his hold on the team is tenuous. Detroit is much worse than Toronto, but there were no overt negative responses by the team to O’Brien’s presence. All coaches (not named Jerry Sloan) have a built-in expiration date, and Jim is probably closer to his than he is to his “born on” date. Last night was fun and easy, but the rest of the season will not be. This situation bears watching.
- Danny, good and bad – Danny’s struggles this season have been well documented. Since New Year’s he’s shot less that 32% on three pointers. In the first half last night, he missed three really good looks from beyond the arc. The low point came when he airballed an unguarded, measured three from the corner. I mean, this thing looked like it was two-feet short. When he’s on line, he’s consistently short. He seems to have to really chuck the ball to get it all the way there. My first inclination is to think he’s lost his legs, which is worrisome for a guy who shot so effortlessly from deep over the past two seasons. All that being said, he still scored 25 points on 9-for-17 from the floor. He played a complete floor game and had the highlight of the evening. After Will Bynum had waved his teammates away, indicating that he wanted to iso Danny and take him to the rim, Danny coolly picked his pocket, took it coast to coast, drawing not only a foul on Bynum, but also a technical on the Detroit guard as well. (Oh, and as much as Danny’s struggled this year, he’s still playing better than Charlie Villanueva, who was selected 10 slots ahead of him in 2005, ever has.)
- Extended Garbage Time – How bad was it last night? O’Brien, who never does this, actually cleared his bench. The last five minutes of the game featured a line up of Travis Diener, A.J. Price, Dahntay Jones, Josh McRoberts, and Solomon Jones. A nice luxury to have with the Pacers flying to Milwaukee last night for tonight’s game.
Too Easy, Drill Sergeant: By The Numbers
Pacer fans can only hope that their “Christmas in July 2011″ has happier results than this.