'Defense stinks'; Pistons slip up in loss to Hawks
Atlanta — The Pistons’ first loss in February came on Friday to the Los Angeles Clippers. It ended their five-game win streak and they were looking to turn things around and get their first road win in more than a month.
Instead, they’ve fallen into another losing streak.
The Pistons fought to get a fourth-quarter lead, but they let it slip away in the final two minutes, a brutal ending to a 118-115 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday afternoon at Philips Arena.
The Pistons got their first look at their two newcomers and another superlative effort from Andre Drummond on both ends of the court, but they couldn’t get stops on the defensive end, falling to the Hawks (18-39), who have the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
“Our defense stinks. It starts with tonight, that we couldn’t stop the ball at all,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We just got broken down. We can’t guard anybody off the dribble.”
Drummond finished with 25 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks, Blake Griffin added 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists and Reggie Bullock 20 points for the Pistons (27-28). Reserves Jameer Nelson and James Ennis III made their debuts after the deadline trades on Thursday and combined for 20 points.
The Pistons have two more home games this week — Monday versus the New Orleans Pelicans and Wednesday’s rematch with the Hawks — before the All-Star break.
They might need it just to regroup for the final push of 25 games.
Griffin finished 7-of-21 from the field, including 3-of-10 on 3-pointers.
“I’m just missing shots. It’s nothing (the opponent) is doing,” Griffin said. “I’m getting the shots I want; I’m just missing them.”
The Pistons couldn’t protect the paint, with the Hawks getting inside and scoring 40 of their points in the paint, and getting to the free-throw line a season-high 37 times, making 32 (87 percent).
The Pistons led, 99-93, with 6:43 left but the Hawks rallied behind Dennis Schroder (23 points and seven assists) and Dewayne Dedmon (20 points and 13 rebounds).
Rookie John Collins (nine points) scored on a hook and after a pair of free throws by Stanley Johnson, former Piston Ersan Ilyasova (19 points) converted a pair of free throws and Schroder added a three-point play to close the gap to one.
Griffin hit a lay-in and Schroder hit a basket, but Griffin answered back with a pair of free throws. The Hawks got a basket from Tyler Dorsey for a one-point deficit, but Ish Smith got his first score of the game on a runner, to push the lead back to three.
The Hawks rallied for the lead, with a jumper from Schroder, a critical three-point play by Dedmon, then a corner 3-pointer from Dedmon, for a 112-107 advantage.
Griffin responded with a 3-pointer, but the Pistons never regained the lead.
Schroder made all six of his free throws in the final 20 seconds to help put the game away.
Van Gundy lamented that the Pistons couldn’t find more opportunities for Bullock, who had 18 of his points in the first half.
“Bullock had a good first half; I don’t know why we can’t keep him going in the second half,” Van Gundy said. “The other (starters) just had tough nights.”
Nelson played ahead of Langston Galloway, who had been surging of late. He finished with six points and five assists in 19 minutes. Ennis fared well also, with 14 points in 23 minutes, including 5-of-7 from the field.
While Ish Smith struggled (1-of-4 field goals), Van Gundy wanted to get a look at Nelson in the offense — and the early indications were encouraging.
“(Nelson) had a good practice yesterday and even tonight he made some good passes. The ball movement is a little better. I don’t know that we’ll stay that way,” Van Gundy said. “The new guys played well; if you look at the plus-minus, that wasn’t the problem — it was our starters. Other than Andre (those guys struggled).”