He jabbed back even harder Friday night.
Two days after the team said Granger would be out indefinitely with a cheek injury, the Indiana forward returned to the starting lineup, scored 29 points and helped the Pacers hold off Detroit 106-102.
“I felt healthy,” Granger said. “I don’t think anything is wrong with me. I just got my block knocked off real quick and I’m OK now.”
If anyone thought these teams, which have two of the four worst records in the Eastern Conference, were playing for lottery picks, think again.
Granger showed no indication he was about to quit on the season.
Instead, after a bleary-eyed week, Granger was seeing things well enough to hit 11 of 16 from the field, both of his 3-point attempts and 5 of 6 free throws. He had six assists and three steals and made all three free throws with 1:25 to go to help seal Indiana’s second win in three games.
He had plenty of help, too.
Troy Murphy(notes) made four 3s and had 20 points. Roy Hibbert(notes) and Brandon Rush(notes) each scored 15 points. Mike Dunleavy finished with 10 points and closed it out with four straight free throws after replacing Granger with 35.3 seconds to go.
But it was Granger’s return that provided the inspiration for Indiana.
“He’s a very integral part of this team and we’re happy to have him back,” Hibbert said. “He was on fire today.”
Granger was only one part of the comeback story, though.
Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey(notes) played for the first time since collapsing on the bench two weeks ago and forward Ben Wallace(notes) finally made it onto the floor after missing eight straight games with a strained right patella tendon.
Wallace finished with one point and seven rebounds while Stuckey looked like he hadn’t missed a second.
The Pistons guard made three 3s and scored 25 points in 27 minutes, spurring a fourth-quarter rally that wiped out a 17-point Indiana lead in the final 10 minutes.
It was almost enough to end Detroit’s three-game losing streak.
“The plan wasn’t to play all those minutes, but I mean it was just in the heat of the game,” Stuckey said. “I’ve been working out. After this happened, I took a couple of days off, but after that I’ve just been working out. I feel fine.”
He looked fine, too, except for getting winded a few times.
Still, it was nothing compared to what Stuckey and the Pistons managed to do after falling into a 24-point deficit just 20 seconds into the second half. They still trailed by 17 after three quarters and by the same 17-point margin Granger hit a 3 with 9:50 left in the game.
That’s when Stuckey provided the spark.
His steal and layup made it 92-79. Another steal and a subsequent assist on Ben Gordon’s(notes) 3 with 5:05 left got Detroit within 94-85. His 14-foot jumper with 3:17 left cut the lead 94-93 and DaJuan Summers(notes) closed out the 15-0 run with a 21-footer that gave Detroit its only lead of the game, 95-94 with 2:51 left.
Suddenly, the Pacers were in trouble and the sparse crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse was quiet.
“I thought our guys in the second half played the way they’re supposed to. We defended and played hard,” coach John Kuester said. “I thought his (Stuckey) energy was great tonight and I am very proud of him.”
But after taking the Pistons’ punch, the Pacers, behind Granger, finally righted themselves.
Earl Watson(notes) took a rebound and went coast-to-coast for the go-ahead layup. Granger followed that by making all three free throws to give Indian a 99-95 lead, and Murphy made two more free throws to extend the margin to 101-95.
Detroit didn’t closer than six until the final basket.
“He looks fine, he looked like the same Grange,” Rush said. “I don’t even think he was really that hurt.”
NOTES: The Pistons have lost four straight and 11 of 13. … Ben Wallace played 24 minutes after missing eight games with a right patella tendon injury. … Indiana shot 60 percent from the field and was 9 of 15 on 3-pointers in the first half. … The Pacers are 3-0 this season and have won five straight over Detroit. … The Pacers have made 10 or more 3s in a game 19 times this season.