The Pistons trailed by 14 but had to overcome Blake Griffin's ejection in the third quarter The Detroit News
Atlanta — Blake Griffin has been the Pistons’ anchor all season, leading them in scoring and representing them in the All-Star Game.
After Griffin got two technical fouls for taunting and was ejected in the third quarter, the Pistons had to go without their leader. They responded with one of their best performances of the season — needing some juice to squeak by one of the worst teams in the league.
Thon Maker — playing in the final seconds because of Griffin’s ejection — hit a 3-pointer off a nice pass from Reggie Jackson and lifted the Pistons to a thrilling, 125-122 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night at State Farm Arena.
The victory kicked off the final stretch of games with a victory, helping the Pistons (27-30) keep pace with the Charlotte Hornets, who remained a half-game ahead in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Jackson finished with a season-high 32 points, with five rebounds and eight assists. Andre Drummond added 26 points and 21 rebounds and Griffin had 15 points before his ejection.
“Not really a whole lot to say about that — the tape pretty much speaks for itself. I shouldn’t have been (ejected),” Griffin said. “But unbelievable job from our guys: Thon hit a big shot, Jon (Leuer) gave us big minutes. Reggie and Dre were great, as they have been. We’ll take this win and move on.”
The Pistons persevered, overcoming a 14-point deficit to win the first game of a back-to-back, with Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat — just a half-game behind the Pistons — looming. It was a gut check for the Pistons, who pieced together a rotation without Griffin.
“(Jackson) and Andre just put the team on their shoulders and carried us,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “Jon Leuer hadn’t played all year, but he found a way to come in and contribute and help us win it. To all our guys’ credit, they found a way to win an important game.”
They had their largest lead after Griffin’s 3-pointer gave them an 88-77 lead at the 4:19 mark but the ejection seemed to fuel them, seeing weakness in the Pistons without their All-Star. The Hawks closed to 100-95 entering the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer by Vince Carter (16 points) with 1.2 seconds left.
The Hawks moved ahead with back-to-back 3-pointers by DeAndre Bembry and Carter to start the fourth, but the Pistons were fueled by the trash talk from the Hawks — and from rap star Quavo, from the group Migos.
“Quavo did a great job motivating us tonight, so the Hawks can thank him,” Jackson said.
After taking a 113-106 lead following a 3-pointer by Leuer and a dunk by Bruce Brown (12 points) with 6:33 remaining, the Pistons looked to be creating some distance.
The Hawks (19-40) responded with a 9-0 run, with a putback John Collins (19 points and six rebounds) and capped by a three-point play by Trae Young (30 points, 10 assists), for a 115-113 lead with 3:44 remaining.
The Pistons clawed back, with a lay-in by Ish Smith and a three-point play by Jackson to get within two at the 1:42 mark. After Young converted a drive, Drummond hit a hook and made two clutch free throws, with 43.7 seconds left to tie it at 122.
Maker made the go-ahead 3-pointer with 16.7 seconds remaining and the Hawks missed on a desperation 3-pointer by Carter.
1. Griffin was ejected at the 4:19 mark for taunting a Hawks player after he made a 3-pointer. Griffin got the first technical at the 4:56 mark for getting into a fracas with Dewayne Dedmon attempting to get the ball. That little fray started a back-and-forth trash-talk session that lasted most of the rest of the game.
2. In his third game with the Pistons, Wayne Ellington joined the starting lineup and paid some immediate dividends, hitting 3-of-7 from beyond the arc in the first half. Like the second half against the Celtics before the break, Ellington was letting the 3-pointers fly and is filling the void left by Reggie Bullock with good 3-point shooting.
3. The Hawks were flying high from 3-point range in the first half, hitting a scorching 57 percent (12-of-21). Trae Young had four of the 3-pointers, with two each from John Collins and Kent Bazemore. Besides their hot 3-point shooting, they were 13-of-27 (48 percent) inside the arc.
4. Jon Leuer, pressed into action because of Griffin’s ejection, made his first 3-pointer since April 9, 2017. He hit it with 6:52 remaining in regulation and gave the Pistons a 111-106 lead. He played the last part of the fourth quarter and that was his only shot attempt.
5. Bruce Brown was active and animated, joining in the trash talk and taunting Young whenever he could. They had back-and-forth baskets, with Brown getting a three-point play, a 3-pointer and another big dunk that helped boost the Pistons to a seven-point lead.