The Pistons beat the Pacers 100-85 on Tuesday night to inch closer to clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Pacers, fighting to sneak in, fell two games behind eighth-place Orlando, making a Detroit-Indiana matchup in the first round less of a possibility.
The Pistons started the day 3 1/2 games in front of Cleveland in the race for the top seed in the East. They also had lost two of three meetings with the Pacers this season.
Tayshaun Prince scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half for Detroit, which overcame a 14-point first-half deficit.
"He carried us pretty much all night," Detroit guard Chauncey Billups said. "Even when he wasn't scoring, he was making the right play, the right pass. It didn't matter what they did, we were going to play off Tay."
The Pacers clinched their first losing season since 1996-97, the last time they missed the playoffs. They have eight games left.
Detroit outrebounded the Pacers 14-3 in the third quarter to turn a 46-43 deficit into a 78-64 lead.
"We expected them to come out and go hard," Billups said. "They did that early, but we stepped up our aggressiveness and intensity and we were able to turn the game back in our favor."
The only negative for the Pistons was forward Rasheed Wallace hyperextended the pointer finger on his left (non-shooting) hand in the first half and played just a few possessions after the break. The Pistons said his status was day-to-day.
"The team with the energy and the intensity is going to outrebound," Prince said. "We came out aggressive in the second half, which allowed us to get on the boards."
Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal had 20 points and seven rebounds after sitting out Sunday's game against San Antonio with a sore left knee. Mike Dunleavy scored 15 points and Jamaal Tinsley added 10 assists. The Pacers upset San Antonio on Sunday, but couldn't pull off back-to-back victories over two of the league's best teams.
The normally talkative O'Neal wouldn't speak to reporters after the game. A few dejected Pacers were willing to discuss the collapse.
"We got off to a good start, played a good, solid first two quarters, then just fell apart in the third," Dunleavy said. "It seemed like we couldn't get loose balls, rebounds, stuff like that. If you give these guys multiple chances, they're going to kill you."
The Pistons quickly erased their three-point halftime deficit and tied the game on a jumper by Hamilton with 7:38 left in the third quarter, but the Pacers regained the lead on a layup by Dunleavy.
Detroit responded with a 20-7 run to take a 74-62 lead. Billups hit a jumper at the buzzer to make it 78-64 at the end of the third quarter.
"We really had a chance to beat them, and we kind of just laid down in the third quarter, and we can't have lapses like that," Indiana forward Danny Granger said.
Prince punctuated the victory with an emphatic dunk over O'Neal with just over 6 minutes left that gave Detroit a 92-74 lead.
"I don't know how many games there were tonight, but that's got to be top five," Wallace said.
The Pistons felt they needed to make a statement against a team they could play in the postseason, and were upset with the way they started the game. They missed six of their first nine free throws before making 20 of their next 23.
"It was embarrassing to come out like that," Billups said. "There is no other way to look at it. But we came out in the third quarter and picked it up pretty well. Bad starts can be like a trickle-down effect. Luckily, we're a team that has played together for a long, long time to be able to turn it around."
Indiana C Jeff Foster sat out with back spasms. He came out in the first quarter Sunday against San Antonio after grabbing nine rebounds. ... Detroit C Dale Davis, a former Pacer, played one minute and did not score. ... The Pacers made nine of their first 11 shots to take a 20-6 lead. ... The Pistons improved to 25-13 on the road. ... Indiana shot 52 percent from the field. They are 7-4 when they shoot better than 50 percent.
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