INDIANAPOLIS -- Peace prevailed, as did the Pistons.
In the first meeting between Indiana and Detroit since their brawl five weeks earlier, nobody charged into the stands, nobody tossed any beer and nobody threw any punches.
Rasheed Wallace, who taunted Indiana fans with expletives when these teams met in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, sank a 3-pointer with 90 seconds left to end the Pacers’ final hopes in a 98-93 victory Saturday.
The game went off without any violence and with barely even a harsh word exchanged by the rivals, whose previous meeting degenerated into one of the worst melees in the history of U.S. professional sports.
“I expect them to be very supportive, but I don’t expect them to be unruly. I really don’t,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle had predicted of the Indiana fans.
They indeed did behave themselves, as did the players.
The Pistons filed off the floor without incident — Wallace even handed his headband to a youngster in an Indiana jersey — after sending the Pacers to their 11th defeat in 16 games since the brawl.
The only positive for Indiana was the return of Jermaine O’Neal, whose brawl-related suspension was reduced by an arbitrator from 25 games to 15. O’Neal had 21 points, seven rebounds and five blocks, but his poor starts to the first and second halves set the tone on an afternoon when the Pacers too often had to play catch-up.
Richard Hamilton scored 25, Chauncey Billups made four 3-pointers and scored 20, Tayshaun Prince added 18 and Wallace had 16 for the Pistons, who have been having their own set of problems since the brawl.
The victory moved the defending NBA champions just one game over .500 (13-12) in a season that has been defined by the actions in their arena — and especially the actions of their fans — during the Nov. 19 game against Indiana.
“Maybe that fact that we’re playing this will be the end of it,” said coach Larry Brown, who has grown disgusted by the constant references he hears about the brawl.
Many of the Indiana fans were decked out in blue and gold Santa caps, and they booed Ben Wallace — whose shove of Pacers forward Ron Artest set off the sequence of events that led to players fighting with fans in the stands and on the court — every time he touched the ball.
Artest remains suspended for the remainder of the season, while Pacers teammate Stephen Jackson still must serve 14 games of a 30-game penalty.
Players from both teams passed out presents to children before tip-off, and the pre-game mood was light despite two fans sitting directly behind Detroit coach Larry Brown wearing hockey masks and shoulder pads while waving a sign that read: “Who needs the NHL when the Pacers are playing the Pistons?” Other fans held signs that read “Suspend Stern” and “Indiana Subs vs. Detroit Thugs.”
O’Neal missed his first three shots before finally connecting, but he ended the first half 2-for-9 and then came out and missed his first three attempts of the second half.
When Carlisle rested his best players toward the end of the third quarter, Detroit closed the period with a 7-0 run and took a 69-61 lead into the fourth.
Indiana closed to 69-67 before Detroit responded with a 9-2 run, and Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace hit jump shots down the stretch to keep the Pacers at least six points down.
Wallace’s final 3-pointer made it 89-80 with 1:29 left, and Indiana got no closer than five the rest of the way.
Reggie Miller led Indiana with 24 points.