Pacers 81, Pistons 69

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—The Indiana Pacers showed they are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, keeping the Detroit Pistons from establishing two historical bests.

Jermaine O’Neal had 28 points and 15 rebounds to help the Pacers snap the Pistons’ 13-game winning streak with an 81-69 victory Tuesday night.

The win capped a stellar weeklong stretch for the Pacers against playoff-caliber teams, leaving the players thinking it might be the start of something special.

“We are really developing into an amazing basketball team,” said forward Scot Pollard, who contributed strong defense in 13 minutes.

The Pistons were trying for the longest winning streak in franchise history and the longest in the NBA this season. Instead, they were held to nine points in the first quarter and lost to their former coach, Rick Carlisle, for the third time this season.

“We had a long winning streak and it was great, but now it’s over,” Ben Wallace said. “Now we just have to start another one.”

Reggie Miller had 22 points in another strong performance for the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers, who have won five in a row and 12 out of 13. That success has helped keep the hard-charging Pistons from overtaking them in the Central Division.

Indiana extended its division lead to 3 1/2 games.

“We take satisfaction as one team that knocked them off course,” Miller said. “The thing I’m encouraged about is we’re beating upper-echelon teams at home and on the road.”

The Pacers have also beaten San Antonio and New Jersey in the last five nights.

Carlisle doesn’t like to put a lot of stock in midseason games, but even he couldn’t ignore the significance of Tuesday night’s win.

“The series advantage is really critical,” Carlisle said. “When you win the series it’s like gaining another game against the other team.”

O’Neal had eight points and 10 rebounds in the first quarter as the Pacers took a 20-9 lead. The strong start set up a relatively easy win for Indiana, which never trailed.

After shooting 19 percent in the first quarter, Detroit shot 77 percent in the second and closed the half with a 10-0 run to pull to 44-40. But that would be as close as the Pistons would get.

“We’ve just got to find a way to beat those guys somehow,” Wallace said.

Corliss Williamson led the Pistons with 17 points and Richard Hamilton added 15.

Detroit couldn’t find an answer for O’Neal, who had his way with Wallace, last year’s defensive player of the year, and Mehmet Okur. O’Neal wasted no time going right at Wallace, driving to the basket and pulling up for short jumpers.

“Jermaine hit big shots for them all night,” Hamilton said.

O’Neal also had four blocks and was 8-for-8 from the foul line.

“Whenever we needed a hoop he got a clean look or got fouled. He goes 8-for-8 from the line tonight and that’s probably the difference in the game,” Carlisle said.

O’Neal set the tone for the aggressive Pacers, who overcame foul trouble with their deep bench.

“I think at the beginning, Indiana set the tempo,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said. “They didn’t turn the ball over. They converted turnovers and we didn’t.”

Detroit seemed to be getting back into the game early in the fourth quarter after Hamilton scored on a layup to make the score 72-63.

Miller responded with his third 3-pointer of the night. His performance made up for struggles from Ron Artest and Al Harrington, who combined for 15 points on 6-of-25 shooting.

“Reggie has played brilliantly over the last week,” Carlisle said. “Without him, I don’t know where we’d be on this stretch.”

As satisfied as the Pacers were to beat Detroit, their postgame comments were still tempered with an eye toward the playoffs.

“We can’t really be popping champagne with these wins,” O’Neal said. “We try to build on them and move on. … But until we get to the finals, itdoesn’t mean anything.”

Notes

Pacers’ F Jonathan Bender missed his second straight game with a sore left knee. … The Pistons’ nine first-quarter points were a season low for the quarter and tied the Pacers’ NBA-era low for points allowed in the first quarter. … Hamilton received a technical foul with 4:07 to play in the first half for arguing a foul call. … Miller got a technical at 3:55 of the third when he didn’t get a call on a drive to the basket. … Williamson got a technical with 40 seconds left in the third when he hit Artest in the throat.The contact appeared to be accidental.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Detroit
C. Williamson C. Williamson
7-11,  17 Pts
5 Rebs, 2 Assists
 Indiana
J. O'Neal J. O'Neal
10-17,  28 Pts
15 Rebs, 1 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists