Atlanta — The Pistons had an early habit of torturing their fans with close losses, punctuated with bouts of optimism and sprinkled with a few bad habits rearing their ugly heads.
Well, for their 10th loss, they decided to give their fans a break — they removed the optimism while doubling down on the misery.
Fair trade for those with heart medication, no?
Hawks point guard Jeff Teague headily dominated the game down the stretch, after the Pistons turned a blowout into a competitive game before losing their fourth straight, 99-89, Friday night at Philips Arena.
Teague scored 28 points and added six assists, four rebounds and two blocked shots, both in the fourth quarter when the Pistons were attempting to charge back from a large deficit.
Josh Smith, in his return home, scored 16 with eight rebounds and five assists, while Andre Drummond had 13 points and 16 rebounds.
"It tells you where we are when two of your frontline guys shoot 40 percent, we call it an 'offensive rhythm,'" said Van Gundy, referencing Drummond shooting 5-for-12 and Smith 8-for-19. "They played well; we're just having so much trouble getting the ball in the basket."
The Pistons haven't yet had a low-effort stinker, and in the games that were trending that way, they've usually put forth a decent half of basketball that scared their opponents into getting serious again before being put away.
Detroit followed that scenario in its losses to Chicago and Minnesota, falling behind by at least 19 points in each before making a game of it. Teague, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap were the main assailants in building a 19-point Hawks' lead, so naturally they would close the game in like fashion.
The Hawks' propensity to jack up 3-pointers compared to challenging the paint, as they'd done with great success in building their lead, enabled the Pistons to go on a 23-4 run between the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth.
D.J. Augustin awoke from his two-week slumber, scoring six straight and tying the game at 76 with eight minutes left. But the team that's second-worst in the league in field goal percentage played to its reputation, shooting just 37 percent for the game.
"Man, you look at our shooting percentages and you don't have anyone playing well," Van Gundy said. "Every game you look down, it's 37, 38 percent. I'm not putting it on them because part of it is what you do offensively and the shots your offense is creating."
And it was the underrated Teague who helped restore order, hitting a floater, blocking Augustin's jumper on the ensuing possession, then hitting a triple a couple possessions later, giving the Hawks an 89-80 lead with 4:50 remaining.
"It was really good to fight back," Van Gundy said. "Our resolve was really good but we had no answers down the stretch. And we had no answers on the pick-and-roll defense."
The Pistons, who moved the ball with precision during their short spurt, reverted back to old habits of trying to do it on their own when the game got close. After Drummond's tip-in with 7:11 left, they didn't score another field goal for nearly five minutes, when Smith hit a running hook.
Smith was the reason the game didn't get out of hand much sooner, when the Hawks offense got going early and the Pistons looked confused.
Smith wasn't pelted with boos by the Hawks fans with whom he had a love-hate relationship during his years in Atlanta, but aside from an errant cross-court pass that made its way to his father in the second row, Smith played sound basketball, under control, and accounted for the best Pistons possessions in the first half.
He was responsible for all of the team's 3-pointers — not by shooting but by drawing defenders and exploiting the Hawks defense for passes to Kyle Singler and Caron Butler in the corner.
As easy as those looks were, they couldn't bottle that and turn it into positive momentum, especially with Greg Monroe in early foul trouble, playing just nine first-half minutes and sitting out the entire fourth quarter after late production got the Pistons back in it.