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Pistons pluck Hawks

You know the phrase "It wasn't as close as it looked"? I have a feeling it may have been coined specifically for Tuesday's game against the Hawks. Oh sure, Atlanta hung tough for the first half, but thanks to a 30-9 run that lasted, well, almost the entire third quarter, this game was never in doubt.

Detroit's bench let Atlanta turn a 28-point deficit into a 11-point loss, but there's a difference between "letting a team back into the game" and simply "allowing them to make the score look respectable."

So Detroit extended their winning streak to four, topping the century mark in every game. Not only that, they continued to spread the load evenly among everybody: no one played more than 34 minutes and seven players scored in double-digits. Seven!

You can tell Flip Murray was hoping to make it eight: he didn't get in the game until the fourth quarter but still found time to heave nine shots, making only three and finishing with six points. He talked about being used exclusively in the fourth on Tuesday. From the Freep's Krista Jahnke:

When asked about his new role Tuesday, Murray said, "Fourth quarter, baby. That's my new nickname -- Fourth Quarter Slaughter."

To get the full effect, say that with a Philly accent, making "quarter" and "slaughter" rhyme. Catchy, eh?

"I'm OK with everything," Murray said. "I've got a job. I'm living. I'm having fun. You've gotta be ready. That's what the Fourth Quarter Slaughter does."

And what the Fourth Quarter Slaughter apparently doesn't do is pass the ball down low: Amir Johnson played eight minutes in the fourth and didn't shoot the ball once, although he did finish with five (!!) blocks, a rebound and an assist. If Johnson is going to be relegated to garbage time, you'd at least like to see the team run a few plays for him, especially when letting Murray go unchecked results in the other team getting 15 points back.

On that note, I suppose this is as good of a time as any to mention that Rodney Stuckey is meeting with the doctor on Friday in hopes of getting cleared for contact in practice. As Flip Saunders told A. Sherrod Blakely, though, Stuckey probably won't make his first appearance in a game until after he's had a good week or two to practice with the team.

As for players who contributed in the first three quarters when the game was actually still in play, Tayshaun Prince led the team with 23 on a scorching 9-12 shooting. Rasheed Wallace scored 11 but was held to 16 minutes due to fouls, but that just opened the door for Jason Maxiell to make a lasting impression on an otherwise disinterested Atlanta crowd. From We're Not in Bristol Anymore:

I just got back from the Hawks game, and they still suck. The best part about the game was getting my January tickets for the Bulls game and Lakers game. The second best aspect of the game was the Jason Maxiell Show. Maxiell had 13 points and 9 boards, but most importantly, some high flying dunks that electrified the otherwise dormant Highlight Factory aka Philips Arena. Maxiell is a high energy skywalker, who will be instrumental in helping Detroit overcome Boston and Orlando in the Playoffs.

I'd like to think that Maxiell might force his way into the Sixth Man of the Year discussion, but until the likes of Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa and Manu Ginobili resume starting, there's really no chance. But just for reference, his numbers this year (especially lately) are somewhat comparable to those of Corliss Williamson when he won in 2002.

Also of note is the fact that Joe Johnson was held to just six points. It's a fluke, right? Maybe, except the same thing happened to Michael Redd (11 points). Not only is Detroit's offense clicking, but their defense is as stout as always, ranking third in the league in points allowed per game. Some things change, but some things stay the same.