'They took the game to us': Pistons can't keep pace with Hawks in home opener
Detroit — The Pistons were the only team in the NBA to play a back-to-back to open the season. After an energetic win against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, the challenge was bouncing back with no rest.
Coach Dwane Casey didn’t want that to be an excuse, but it showed in the second half as all the juice they had in the opener seemed to be sapped.
The Atlanta Hawks took advantage, running away with a 117-100 victory in the Pistons’ home opener on Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Derrick Rose scored 27, Andre Drummond had 21 points and 12 rebounds and Luke Kennard added 13 points for the Pistons (1-1), who will have their third game in four nights when they host the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.
The Hawks (1-0) pulled away in the third quarter, with a decisive 9-2 run to finish the period. Jabari Parker (18 points) scored seven straight points before Rose finished with a lay-in as the Hawks led, 91-81.
The Pistons got a boost from Tim Frazier, who had a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to close within 97-88 at the 7:56 mark. But the Hawks kept attacking, behind Trae Young (38 points, nine assists, seven rebounds), who led the charge with 26 points in the first half.
“We started the game with a laissez-faire attitude defensively, especially coming off a back-to-back. They came out and took the game to us,” Casey said. “That is the mark we have to understand — you have a good game one night and it doesn’t mean a hill of beans the second night.
“Defensively, we came out and set the tone. We ended the second (quarter) with a small lineup, a 12-2 run, got back into the game and again started the third quarter with a soft disposition defensively.”
Rose rallied with two free throws and a floater to get within 98-92, but the Hawks put the game away with a 7-0 run, including a three-point play by John Collins (18 points, 10 rebounds) and a dunk by DeAndre Bembry, to push the lead to 105-92 with 4:47 left.
Drummond converted a hook and split a pair of free throws — ending his streak of 13 straight makes — and Tony Snell added a 3-pointer, trimming the deficit to 105-98.
Fatigue looked to be an issue, though most players wouldn’t use it as an excuse.
“We are NBA players. There’s not excuse for the way we started that game,” Drummond said. “The way you start is the way you finish. We started off slow, allowed them to get up and down and traded baskets with a team that had a day off — and the outcome was a loss for us.”
The Pistons made a charge late in the first half, sparked by Rose, who had eight straight points for the Pistons. In the midst of that, the Hawks had an 8-0 run, including a four-point play by Young and a putback by Bembry.
The Pistons finished the half with an 8-0 run off a 3-pointer from Snell, a Drummond dunk and a 3-pointer by Langston Galloway to move ahead, 63-60.
Here are some observations from the home opener:
► Rose is the real deal. Rose has proven to be the spark off the bench the Pistons need, with 18 points in the opener and 27 on Thursday. He’s done it all inside the arc, with just one 3-point attempt overall. He’s been effective in the lane and with mid-range jumpers, but he’s still a mismatch, even at the age of 31. Though he’s been coming off the bench, there’s little chance that he’ll start given the minutes restriction that he’s on.
► Kennard has upped his game. He hasn’t averaged in double figures in his career but if the first two games are any indication, he’ll surpass that this year. He’s more aggressive in looking for his open shot and has created some chemistry with Rose. He passed up some shots in the home opener but that will be an area he’ll get more comfortable with as the season progresses.
► The starting group is struggling without Blake Griffin. Besides Drummond, they managed only 30 points in the opener and followed with 23 points (to Drummond’s 21). They haven’t found a rhythm — and at times, Drummond looked to be the focal point of the offense.
► The backup center position is an issue, with Christian Wood not playing on Thursday after seeing just four minutes in the opener. Thon Maker had one point in 19 minutes and struggled on both ends of the court. It’s forcing Markieff Morris to play increased minutes at power forward and Drummond, who played 36 minutes, to play more than normal.
► Reggie Jackson was injured and left the game in the second half, after battling back issues for the past few days. If he’s unable to play Saturday, the Pistons could turn to Frazier for increased minutes — and Frazier has played well, coming off the bench in a pinch.