PACERS COULDN’T EVEN STOP A CLOCK

Rick Carlisle wears a suit and tie and a dress shirt and dark socks and he’s not allowed to play anyhow, so all he could do was call time-outs. Sometimes that’s effective. And sometimes it’s all you’ve got.

We lost track of how many time-outs Carlisle, the Indiana coach, signaled for during the bloodletting that was the late second and third quarters Tuesday night. Suffice it to say, he spent the nest egg. Time out, ref. Time out, ref. Making a “T” with his hands. Touching his shoulders. Why bother, Rick? It was like trying to save the

Titanic by scooping with a paper cup.

Antonio McDyess and Ben Wallace had back-to-back dunks? “Time out,” Carlisle asked. Detroit scored five more unanswered points? “Time out,” Carlisle asked.

Ben dunked again, Rip Hamilton finished a fast break, Tayshaun Prince hit a running jump shot? “Time out,” Carlisle asked. The Pistons’ defense smothered or altered nearly every Indiana shot? “Time out,” Carlisle asked,

You only get six time-outs a game, plus two 20-second versions that must be split between halves. Few at the scorer’s table could remember the last time a coach used all his time-outs before the third quarter was 10 minutes gone.

But that’s how it was for Carlisle and Indiana in Game 5 at the Palace. What else could he do? The Pistons were overwhelming, and the Pacers were all thumbs. It was like trying to dodge raindrops in a thunderstorm. Like throwing darts at a charging bull. Like one of those heavyweight fights where all the battered boxer can do is clench and clench and then the ref breaks them apart and he clenches again.

If this had been Little League, they would have invoked the mercy rule.

By these are the playoffs. You know what they say to mercy?

Fuggedaboutit.

Nothing but bricks for Indy

“Those two quarters” — the second and third — “were great,” coach Larry Brown said after the 86-67 romp and the Pistons had a 3-2 lead in this Eastern Conference semifinal. “We made them work for every shot. We gave them, for the most part, one shot. That got us out on the break, and that got us some easy baskets, and easy baskets are so hard to come by in this series.”

You wouldn’t know Tuesday night. While the Pistons dunked away, Indiana’s woeful second quarter of 14 points was eclipsed by an even worse third quarter of 11 points. They missed 14 shots in a row. Their long ones were clanking. Their short ones were challenged, poked or swatted.

Over a six-minute span in that third period, Detroit’s lead went from seven points to 22 points. And I’m not talking gradually. I’m talking uninterrupted! It seemed like the Pistons were playing with nine guys. They chased down Indiana’s misses. They hit dunks, jumpers and more dunks. They did whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted. They owned the ball the way “Desperate Housewives” owns magazine covers.

You pretty much knew it was over when a long rebound came off an Indiana miss and two Pacers were converging on it and Chauncey Billups ran like a mugger from behind and fisted the ball up into the air — and all the way down court to a solitary Rasheed Wallace, who plucked it for a jam.

A few minutes later, Carlisle called his last stop in the action (with 2:31 left in the third and the Pistons up by 25) and he was officially unable to stop the clock anymore. His time-outs were … out. Which is called what exactly? “Times out”? Whatever it is, did you know it was against the rules? You need to carry at least one time-out into the fourth quarter. If you don’t, they can call a technical foul before it’s over.

So, as if the loss weren’t bad enough for Carlisle, he could only watch with 2:17 left as the referees blew the whistle, charged his team with a “T,” and Darko Milicic — oh, the humanity! — sank the free throw.

“When you stink, you stink,” Carlisle said, “and the last 31 minutes, we stunk.”

The last 31 minutes?

Time to polish off the Pacers

OK, Detroit. Now finish.

Don’t wipe your brow. Don’t take a deep breath. Don’t flick the sweat away from your eyes or shrug your shoulders thinking you’ll come back with a tighter grip. End it. That has to the mind-set this morning or the Pistons will be back here for a Game 7 on the weekend. Remember. It looked this easy after Game 1 as well. Then the Pacers took the next two. The most dangerous team is a team with nothing to lose and a season on the line. Nobody will lie down Thursday night.

Yes, it’s true that the Pacers on Tuesday seemed intent on adopting a new team motto: “Less Than Zero.”

And yes, they look tired and shoot like Barney Fife. But that was Tuesday. All eyes are on Thursday.

“We have to regroup in a big way,”

Carlisle said.

In the meantime, you have to feel, if only a little bit, for the former Pistons coach. What could he do? A total system shutdown? A 31-minute stretch that “stunk?” In the end, Carlisle was like a man with no quarters, standing by an expired parking meter as a cop writes him a ticket.

Times out.

And, if the Pistons have anything to say about it, time’s up.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com”

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