Auburn Hills — It took a sweet 16 to wake up the Pistons from their post-All Star slumber, where the question was being asked if this team possessed the wherewithal to pick themselves off the canvas.
The Atlanta Hawks, losers of seven in a row and missing its top two players, looked like an offensive juggernaut in the second quarter, scoring on 16 straight possessions, something they likely couldn’t do in an empty gym.
But the Pistons recovered to temporarily stop the bleeding, ending their three-game losing streak, 115-107, Friday at The Palace. The win pulls the Pistons to within 2.5 games of the Hawks and Bobcats, who are tied for the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.
They played — finally — with the appropriate desperation of a team fighting to make the playoffs.
Greg Monroe emerged with a loose ball and lumbered downcourt for an easy two-handed dunk, yelling on his way back.
Andre Drummond had an appointment with the rim after a midcourt steal — and grizzled veteran Elton Brand didn’t make the wisest decision as he went up with Drummond, followed by the most emotion Drummond has showed in his career after finishing with a dunk while being fouled.
“I think that’s been missing for the season,” said Pistons reserve guard Will Bynum, who called for his teammates to look themselves in the mirror after two bad losses to the Bobcats. “That passion, that energy, guys being positive on the court. Chest bumping and having fun. That’s basketball, that’s what it’s about.”
Monroe led the Pistons with 22 points and 15 rebounds while Drummond’s only blemish to his 20-point, 11-rebound night was missing all eight of his free-throws, four of them when the Hawks decided to foul him intentionally with four minutes remaining.
The Hawks were led by Paul Millsap’s 23 points and eight rebounds, while guard Shelvin Mack — pressed into 38 minutes with starting point guard Jeff Teague out with an ankle injury — scored 21 with six assists.
Bodies hit the floor on both sides and the necessary urgency was finally displayed — not just on two plays but for the better part of the second half, after the Pistons trailed by 11.
“You guys all watch the NBA — the better teams do that,” interim coach John Loyer said. “We have to get our guys to do it more often than we’re doing it currently.”
Kyle Singler’s corner triple (20 points) from a Josh Smith (17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) pass with 1:54 left broke a 104-all game. And when Bynum had some serious rim English to initiate a three-point play, it prevented another patented Piston collapse.
Those two combined on the dagger — another Singler triple from the same spot with 30.1 seconds left, after Bynum evaded a double team and swung a lefty hook pass — sending The Palace crowd into a frenzy.
"We felt great energy out there and it was great," Singler said. "I don't think I've been at a game like that at The Palace in a while."
It sent a shockwave of relief to the Pistons bench, as they gained a seven-point lead.
“Hopefully tonight is a stepping stone for us to do good things,” Bynum said. “We should have one agenda and that’s winning. When you don’t have one agenda, it’s hard to play and it trickles down through the whole team.”
It was a sharp contrast earlier to The Palace looking dead and the Pistons looking dead to rights, giving up 41 second-quarter points to the Hawks, who were desperately hanging onto the seventh playoff spot.
“We didn’t play with the emotion, the fire we need to play with on a nightly basis,” Loyer said of the second quarter. “We were hoping they missed, and you can’t hope guys miss. And our guys went out in the second half and made them miss.”
The Pistons’ third-quarter comeback was either triggered by Loyer’s hoarse-voiced halftime tirade or Brandon Jennings shaking off missing his first eight shots to score 12 in the third, hitting two triples and a breakaway layup, as the Pistons finally began to play to their talent level and not the competition’s.
Aside from the Hawks’ amazing efficiency in the second quarter, they shot just 46 percent for the evening, but still made 13 triples, which almost spoiled the Pistons’ night.
“With us I think it takes one spark,” Bynum said. “One mental change, a little adjustment and we can go on a run and make good things happen.”
Jennings finished with 12 points and 14 assists while giving way to Bynum in the fourth, who finished with nine and seven — as the Pistons took Bynum’s message of looking themselves in the mirror and responding.