The Pistons and Hawks were ice cold early in Atlanta in an early Martin Luther King Day tilt. The difference was that the Hawks, a championship level team, found that extra gear late when it was time to put the game away. Detroit, meanwhile, wilted under the pressure, eventually falling 93-82.
The Hawks didn't get any superstar contributions but used their balanced scoring attack to outlast Detroit. Five Hawks were in double figures and those five players had between eight and 15 shots. Any one of the five guys they put on the floor can kill you with their jumper and Detroit's defense couldn't compensate.
Neither team could make anything most the night (blame the early start time), but when it mattered late Atlanta out-executed Detroit. The Pistons, meanwhile, had good performances from a number of players but a lot of guys had key flaws in their game exposed. Whether it was an untimely turnover from Greg Monroe, missed free-throws from Andre Drummond, an ill-timed shot from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, or a rare no-show performance from Brandon Jennings, Detroit just couldn't find any consistent offensive rhythm.
Rebounding kept them in the game (61-42 advantage for Detroit) but eventually the miscues became too much. In the fourth quarter, the Hawks shot 55 percent from the field, had 10 assists and just three turnovers. Detroit, meanwhile, shot 34.8 percent, and had more turnovers (five) than assists (four). That's the difference between a championship-caliber team and a good team fighting for a playoff spot.
Drummond had a double-double in the first half and finished the game with 13 points and 18 rebounds. He was limited to 27 minutes as Van Gundy instead chose to ride Monroe for the majority of the second half. Monroe responded with 16 points and season-high 20 rebounds (but a team-high six turnovers with three coming in the final frame).
The Pistons shot just 35 percent from the floor, 25 percent from 3 and 57 percent from the charity stripe. You can't struggle from the floor to that degree and expect to beat the Hawks.
Atlanta was led by Mike Scott and Paul Millsap with 20 points apiece, but got key buckets from just about everyone. Al Horford had 14 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Atlanta was moving the ball all over the floor against Detroit, notching 31 assists on just 37 made baskets.
They were simply too fast, too skilled and too much for this Detroit team. And still Detroit found themselves within four 78-74 with just over seven minutes to play.
A championship-caliber team then found a way to dig down and deliver on both ends. It's the kind of success Detroit wants to eventually achieve. They're just not there yet, but it's nice that Detroit has gone from getting handled by the Sixers (last month) to staying competitive with perhaps the NBA's best team.
Now they just need to win some games.