Van Gundy impressed as Pistons crush Hawks

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — For the past few weeks, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy has lamented his team’s lack of defense and inability to get stops when it needed them. That included squandering an 18-point lead against the Sacramento Kings last week.

With the way the Pistons were playing offense in the first half on Wednesday, the defensive end wasn’t much of a worry.

They posted season highs for scoring in the first quarter (42) and first half (69) behind Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris and cruised to a 118-95 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at The Palace.

It’s the second straight win for the Pistons (20-24), who moved within 1 1/2 games of the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference and won the season series against the Hawks, 2-1, after a 36-point blowout on Dec. 2.

BOX SCORE: Pistons 118, Hawks 95

It started with a 7-0 run and the Pistons led the entire game, behind their energy on both ends of the court.

“I actually thought that was our best quarter of the year so far, in terms of offense and defense combined,” Van Gundy said. “We did a really solid job at the defensive end, our ball movement was good and we made shots.

“Obviously, it was a really good first quarter and that’s what decided the game.”

All five starters finished in double figures, as Jackson led the way with 26 points, Harris 19 and Marcus Morris had 14 points, 10 rebounds and tied his career high with seven assists.

The Pistons set the tone with their rebounding, including a 60-32 margin, the Pistons’ largest since Feb. 13, 1990, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

“We outrebounded them by 28 — that’s astounding,” Van Gundy said. “We did a good job on both boards.”

Andre Drummond added 13 points and 17 rebounds and Reggie Bullock, who started for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (shoulder), 15 points.

They onslaught started with the early spurt, on a jumper by Harris, a putback by Bullock and a 3-pointer by Harris, for a 7-0 lead in the first 2:15. The run stretched to 21-8 in the opening seven minutes, as Harris hit another 3-pointer and Drummond had a pair of baskets.

The Pistons made their first four 3-pointers, including back-to-back by Jackson and Morris to end the spurt.

Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan) kept the Hawks (24-18) in it early, with eight of his 10 points in the first quarter. He hit his second 3-pointer to cut the lead to 30-16, but Jackson was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three free throws. Drummond added a putback and Harris a jumper, pushing the lead to 37-16 with 1:34 left.

The Pistons reached their season high for points in the first quarter (37) and surpassed it with a 3-pointer by Harris and a jumper by Stanley Johnson for a 42-18 first-period advantage. They shot 62 percent (16-of-26), with 6-of-7 on 3-pointers.

“We played well to start the game. From start to finish, we played really well,” Jackson said. “We hit them early, hit them often and came out with a win.”

The defense held, keeping the Hawks to 44 percent in the opening period, while allowing just three rebounds, with an 11-board margin. The Pistons stretched the lead in the second quarter, with a 12-6 run, with six points by Morris and four by Aron Baynes (12 points total), pushing the advantage to 54-24, the largest of the game.

The Hawks didn’t fold, with an 8-0 run, including consecutive three-point plays by Kent Bazemore (10 points) and Paul Millsap (21 points) and another drive by Bazemore. After Harris split a pair of free throws, Millsap added another three-point play, trimming the lead to 20 with 5:34 left before halftime.

The Pistons scored the next six points, with a jumper by Jackson and a 3-pointer by Bullock, and added an 8-0 run, helping to get the lead to 24 at the break.

In the third quarter, after an opening lay-in by Millsap, Bullock got two straight baskets, the second on a reverse lay-in off a cut.

Jackson and Drummond combined for 10 points during a stretch in the middle of the third quarter, with Drummond getting a dunk, Jackson a lay-in on a cut and adding a three-point play and a 3-pointer.

The Hawks kept in it with a three-point play by Dennis Schroder, a couple free throws by Millsap and a drive by Bazemore, but didn’t get within 20 points.

Near the end of the quarter, Morris hit a jumper, Johnson a lay-in and Ish Smith drove and finished with a lefty lay-in, making it 92-64 with 1:51 remaining.

The Hawks didn’t threaten the rest of the way, pulling their starters.

“Credit to Detroit. They were better than us in every phase of the game. They were well-prepared; they executed defensively and offensively,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We couldn’t match them tonight.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard