Auburn Hills — The streak had to end at some point.
Whether it was the five-game streak during this nine-game home stand or the six-game stretch of winning the second of back-to-back games, the Pistons' good fortune wasn’t going to continue for the rest of the season.
After Friday’s impressive win over the Charlotte Hornets, in which they scored 72 points in the first half, the Pistons didn’t have the same pep and verve and fell to the Atlanta Hawks, 112-95, on Saturday night at The Palace.
The loss ended both of the streaks for the Pistons (39-35) but they maintained their No. 8 spot in the East race with eight games to go, after the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers also lost on Saturday.
Coach Stan Van Gundy, known for his scathing postgame comments, heaped praise on the Hawks for their stellar play in a good all-around performance.
“Tonight was about them. That’s a very good team that’s really hitting their stride and they played terrific at both ends,” Van Gundy said. “I’m not letting our guys off the hook; there’s things we’ll show them on Monday that they could have done a lot better.
“We’re learning and tonight, hopefully, was a big lesson: that’s the most intense and energetic anybody has played against us all year.”
The Hawks (44-30) have won 11 of their last 13 and held on to the No. 3 seed. They also wrapped up the season series, winning the last three after the Pistons took the season opener in Atlanta.
Tobias Harris had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Andre Drummond added 19 points and 17 rebounds and Marcus Morris 13 points.
The Pistons didn’t have the same jolt they had in scoring 36 points in each of the first two quarters on Friday, managing just 42 points in the first half against the Hawks.
Though both teams were playing for the second straight night, Atlanta had the energy from the start.
“It’s a good road back-to-back effort,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “The defense in the first quarter kind of set the tone, the activity, then obviously we shot the ball well tonight.”
The Hawks led by 19 early in the third quarter, but the Pistons stuck around, chipping away at the lead. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Morris hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Harris added a basket for a 66-55 deficit.
The Pistons didn’t have an answer for Paul Millsap, who notched 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists. His jumper ended the Pistons’ run and Dennis Schroder added a drive to push the lead back to 15.
That started a 7-2 spurt, but the Pistons responded with five straight points, with a jumper by Harris and a 3-pointer by Caldwell-Pope, to get the deficit back to 11. Millsap followed with another 3-pointer — he was 3-of-4 on 3-pointers — to stem the tide.
Harris, who had 13 points in the third quarter, hit a 3-pointer and Drummond added a hook to get the lead in single digits, 79-70, with 1:39 left. After a drive by Kent Bazemore (17 points), Harris converted a floater and Caldwell-Pope a hanging drive with 26.8 seconds remaining to get the Pistons within seven.
The rally stalled when Schroder hit a lay-in with eight seconds remaining, pushing the advantage back to nine entering the fourth quarter.
The Hawks put it away with a decisive 6-0 spurt, with a jumper by Kyle Korver (12 points) and four straight points by Mike Scott, getting the lead up to 94-79 with 8:07 left.
In the first quarter, the Hawks jumped to a 27-15 margin and led, 56-42, at halftime. The Pistons shot 26 percent (5-of-19) in the first quarter to dig the early hole.
“They do a great job; they have their defensive principles and they stick to them,” Morris said. “I felt like every time I was in the post, I had two or three guys on me. They’re a playoff team, a veteran team — and it showed.”