Purposeful, physical defense propels Pacers past Pistons to remain undefeated in tournament play
The Pacers turned up their defensive pressure and held the Pistons to 17 fourth-quarter points. That carried them to a 135-113 win to complete a 4-0 sweep in Group Play.
For the past three seasons, Pacers fans have wanted to see defense. Remember the “Blue Collar, Gold Swagger” mantra? Their uptempo style is fun and great for social media highlights, but defense wins games. At least the meaningful ones.
Can they keep opponent scoring down and get stops when it mattered most? They gave up 284 combined points in their last two games.
The Pacers trailed by two at halftime and had a one-point advantage entering the fourth quarter of Friday’s game, their fourth and final Group Play game for the NBA’s new in-season tournament.
The Pacers had battled foul trouble throughout. They successfully turned to a two-center lineup for the first time this season to match the Detroit Pistons’ size and physicality. And when the game was hanging in the balance early in the fourth, the Pacers turned the defense up to a notch we have not seen before this season.
It all began with a steal by Andrew Nembhard, who returned to the lineup after missing the last three games due to a sore lower back. They forced four Pistons turnovers over five possessions during a 70-second span.
Quick, yet impactful in a game with five ties and 12 lead changes.
“We’ve got to do things consistently within our system,” head coach Rick Carlisle said before the game. “We’ve had a lot of breaking rules of our system and it’s been very costly. There’s probably 20 to 25 points, maybe even more, in the Toronto game that were minor detail things — and some were major — but we’ve got to keep working on it.”
I remind you how, at the start of the season, the Pacers emphasized that trimming six-to-eight points per game would result in many more wins. Two of their six losses this season were by one point.
The Pacers took the defensive end seriously and rose to the challenge, resulting in a 136-113 win to finish Group Play 4-0. It also guarantees that they will host their quarterfinals game (Dec. 4th or 5th). So the aqua blue
pool court isn’t going anywhere.
“Us getting this experience early, being such a young group, is so important,” said Myles Turner, the longest-tenured Pacer. “Being battle-tested early so you’re ready for that type of physicality and that style of play toward the end of the year. That’s big time. We took care of home and the first stretch of the in-season tournament, but all eyes forward now.”
To be sure, the Pacers had some bad moments defensively. Several times they gambled or were out of place defensively. The Pistons, who’ve now lost 13 consecutive games, scored their first 14 points in the paint. Then foul trouble became an issue, starting with Turner.
“Come on guys, I need you there,” he could be seen on the TV broadcast saying to teammates who were out of position. “That’s two (fouls) on me.”
That’s the leadership you need and expect from your defensive anchor and someone who has been around for almost a decade. His early foul trouble, combined with the Pistons’ big and physical playing style — similar to Orlando and Toronto, both of whom they played in the last week — led Carlisle to play two centers.
It was Jalen Smith and Isaiah Jackson paired together and it didn’t just work, it led to tough, inspiring defense.