The first quarter of the Indiana’s pre-All Star Break showdown against former arch rival Detroit sure brought back memories.
Allow me to explain.
Years ago, I worked for a website that often sent me to high school girls basketball games. The early stages of this game brought back all kinds of nostalgia: a barrage of missed shots, stands completely devoid of spectators and general confusion as to my purpose for watching.
Fortunately, after a sloppy beginning, things did start to pick up and resemble a professional basketball game. Unfortunately, Tayshaun Prince was the main reason for this as he nailed his first 7 shots in a perfect first period (one missed free throw notwithstanding). By the end of the opening quarter, the Pacers had allowed 33 points and nearly revived the careers of both Prince and Tracy McGrady.
In a game on the brink of turning ugly, the Pacers went to their new go-to guy: Dahntay Jones, who had the team’s first 11 in the second quarter to keep Detroit within arm’s reach. By halftime, Indiana had to have felt fortunate to be down by just 5 considering the broadcast included the phrases “Detroit has shot 65% from the field in this quarter,” “Paul George has been taken to the locker room” and “Yes, that is Solomon Jones in the game.”
It was a contest of Detroit’s what once was vs. Indiana’s what could be. Tonight, the Pistons were a team of former stars showing flashes of brilliance in an otherwise lethargic environment. It’s like a series of reunion shows for an old rock band used to touring the world — except now they’re playing in bars in Omaha rather than sold-out forums in Oslo.
Those throwback performances coupled with solid play from the Pistons’ young players had Detroit in control for most of the game. Pacers play-by-play TV announcer Chris Denari even commented that the team “never made Detroit feel uncomfortable” in the first three quarters.
In the final period, Roy Hibbert and Josh McRoberts certainly made things a little tenuous. Down 98-88, the two big men sparked a 9-0 run to bring the Pacers within 1.
But Prince answered.
After the Pacers played nearly a full-possession of tough defense, he nailed a 20-footer to beat the shot clock before drawing a foul on Danny Granger on the next possession and sinking 2 free throws, doing nearly everything besides putting on the choke sign for the 350 fans in the arena.
This would have been enough to send the young Pacers reeling just a few weeks ago. Instead, Indiana relied on their stars down the stretch. Granger banked in a 3, Hibbert scored on a short hook and Collison scored on a fast break to tie the game.
The Pistons had one last possession to win. Tayshaun was given carte blanche to create in isolation and got to near the foul line before being thwarted by some tough Granger defense that included up to three fouls. No matter. Detroit didn’t score and the refs didn’t blow the whistle so the two teams were forced to play another five minutes.
But in the overtime, the mistakes were just too much down the stretch. The slow start defensively caught up, and the second chances given to Detroit piled up. Two turnovers (one a McRoberts palming violation and the other an offensive foul called on Hibbert when he was battling for position and Ben Wallace was flopping) and two offensive boards given up were just too big of a hurdle to overcome. And when Prince grabbed an offensive board on a Ben Gordon airball and put it in with 1:34, a straw broke the camel’s back.
As Prince probably didn’t say, “Game, blouses.”
The league now enters the All-Star break (or as I like to all it “Now What the Hell Should I Do Between Work and Sleep?” time). Tonight, a winnable game slipped away, and if the Pacers give those up like they allowed offensive rebounds tonight, it could be another pick at the end of the lottery and another season over too soon.