BY PERRY A. FARRELL
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
INDIANAPOLIS -- Why is the Pistons' streak over?
Because in the three games it has lost to Indiana this season, including Tuesday night's 81-69 setback at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Pacers have played with greater force, and Detroit has appeared to be unwilling or unable to match their strength. The Pacers ended the Pistons' franchise-record-tying 13-game winning streak.
Ron Artest has whipped the Pistons' small forwards, and Jermaine O'Neal had his way with their forwards and centers, other than Ben Wallace.
To the delight of former Detroit coach Rick Carlisle, the Pacers are 3-0 in the four-game season series against the Pistons, and they own all tie-breakers for playoff berths.
"I've got a lot of admiration for our team and the way they've held together," Carlisle said.
The Pacers (33-11) have won five in a row and 11 out of their past 12 to keep Detroit (29-14) in second place in the Central Division.
"They just set the tempo," Detroit coach Larry Brown said. "We got back into the game and got it down four, and then, the second half, we just didn't match their effort. . . . They converted turnovers, and we couldn't get them to turn the ball over. That's usually aggressiveness and defensive pressure, which they did a great job of."
O'Neal controlled everything, with 28 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. Aging Reggie Miller shook off the cobwebs and scored 22 points, including three triples.
It was O'Neal's 28th double-double of the season.
"When we needed a hoop, he was able to get a clean look or get a foul," Carlisle said.
Meanwhile, nothing came easy for the Pistons.
"In all three games, Rip and Tayshaun and Chauncey haven't shot the ball well or taken many shots," Brown said.
Between them, Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups shot 6-for-26 from the field Tuesday night. They are 21-for-80 in the three games against the Pacers.
The Pistons hit just one three-pointer and shot just 39.1 percent from the field. Billups, who scored just 11 points, suffered a cut under his chin and received five stitches.
Taking an 11-point lead after one quarter, the Pacers led all the way. They took a 66-57 lead into the fourth quarter and expanded it to 77-63 before Detroit put together a mild run.
Detroit was forced to put tough guys Darvin Ham and Corliss Williamson on the floor in the fourth quarter, as Tayshaun Prince and Mehmet Okur were spectators.
"Eventually we have to find a way to beat these guys," said Wallace, who had 10 rebounds and nine points. "We just have to start another streak."
Contact PERRY A. FARRELL at 313-222-2555 or email@example.com.