Pistons survive 'embarrassing' 4th quarter, beat Hawks
Detroit — The situation was less than ideal, almost a win-or-else proposition.
The Pistons had lost to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday and in the last game before the All-Star break, they were getting a rematch. The Hawks, who had the second-worst record in the NBA, were without three of their starters, a situation coach Stan Van Gundy pointed out was a concern.
Even the Pistons, playing short-handed at times this season, had notched some good wins, including over the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers when they were without some of their starters.
Van Gundy didn’t want a reprise with the Hawks gaining confidence while playing with reserves if the game stayed close.
The Pistons pulled away in the third quarter but had to hold on during a furious Hawks rally in the fourth, taking a 104-98 victory on Wednesday night at Little Caesars Arena.
The win ends the three-game losing skid for the Pistons (28-29), as they head into the All-Star break in ninth place in the East — 1½ games behind the Miami Heat for the final playoff spot — with 25 games remaining in the regular season.
Ish Smith had 22 points and nine assists, Blake Griffin flirted with a triple-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists and Andre Drummond added 13 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons, who don’t play again until they face the Boston Celtics on Feb. 23.
“(The break) helps us out. We didn’t want to go and lose another game and give ourselves a harder road when we got back,” said forward Stanley Johnson, who had 14 points. “I think All-Star break will be good for our legs. We’ll get some fresh legs, get re-motivated to get back on schedule.”
The Pistons had a 45-33 halftime lead and blew the game open with a 17-0 run, with seven points from Smith and four from Johnson. The lead ballooned to 82-61 after three quarters, but the Hawks weren’t done, as the Pistons’ bench faltered.
“Our bench, first of all, came in and we had a huge lead and they didn’t even try defensively — didn’t even make an effort,” Van Gundy lamented. “Let them back in the game, they got rolling and then the (starters) came back in and didn’t play any defense either.
“I’ll take the win and go to the All-Star break, but that was an embarrassing fourth quarter.”
Atlanta (18-41) rallied for a 19-10 spurt, with six points from Taurean Prince (14 points), five points from Tyler Dorsey and four points each from John Collins (11 points and 10 rebounds) and Isaiah Taylor.
The Hawks closed within eight, 94-86, at the 2:55 mark on a lay-in by Taylor but Drummond caught an ally-oop from Griffin — his ninth assist of the game — as he teetered on the verge of a triple-double.
It wasn’t meant to be.
The Pistons had a couple opportunities to get a final assist for Griffin, but they rimmed out. The Hawks got within 102-98 with 4.4 seconds left, but Johnson made two for the final margin.
“The way that we were moving the ball and playing defense to build that lead was great, Griffin said. “I played really free. Then, on the flipside, giving up that many points — there is no excuse for that, especially once the game got really tight, down to like 13, 14, 10 (points), those are the games that I’ve lost in the playoffs and in the regular season.
“It doesn’t feel good and it puts you going in the wrong directions. I like that we closed it out, but we’ve got to be smarter down the stretch.”
Andrew White had a team-high 15 points in his first NBA game to help pace the bench, which outscored the Pistons’ reserves 45-28.
Other observations from the matchup:
■ The Pistons had seven players score in double figures — including all five starters —showing the scoring balance. They shared the ball and played some of their best ball in a couple weeks during the third quarter.
■ The Hawks were without three starters: Dennis Schroder (rest), Ersan Ilyasova (right shoulder sprain) and Kent Bazemore (rest) for the game. The Pistons didn’t take advantage, mounting only a 22-14 margin after the first quarter. The subs played well, with the Pistons having a hard time protecting the basket.
■ The Pistons shot 64 percent from the field (14-of-22) in the third quarter, which helped build the lead. The defense, which has been a recurring issue, wasn’t as good as the offense, though. They allowed the Hawks to shoot 11-of-21 (52 percent), including 3-of-7 (43 percent) from 3-point range in the period.
■ Langston Galloway moved back into the role of a third guard, as Jameer Nelson continued to play backup point guard and Luke Kennard moved back to the backup shooting guard. It’s a revolving rotation for Van Gundy, still trying to find the best matches with the new players.