The Detroit Pistons had just a little bit of magic left in them. Detroit had the ball with 1.3 seconds down 3 but a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope heave fell short and the Pistons fell 106-103 to the surging Atlanta Hawks.
On a night when the Hawks played just about the prettiest offense and most disciplined defense I've seen this season, it was going to be difficult for the Pistons to win. With Andre Drummond ineffective due to a battle with sickness it was nearly impossible.
Still, they had a chance. The Pistons were down by as many as 23 and the Hawks were humming. The fact that the Pistons were even able to make this a game at all is a testament to their newfound grit and determination.
KCP led the Pistons with 20 points but it took him 23 shots to get there, including 16 three-pointers, five of which in the last two minutes. He made just four 3s but his statline is the encapsulation of just how frustrated the Pistons were against the stout Atlanta defense. The Hawks were always in the right position and moving all over the place. The Pistons couldn't get into the paint at all and had to settle with any open 3-pointer they could find.
The Pistons shot 43 threes on the night, a franchise high, making just 13 of them.
Greg Monroe had 15 and 12 but again struggled to convert his shots in the paint. The heroes for Detroit were Anthony Tolliver, Joel Anthony and Kyle Singler.
The Hawks had six players in double figures led by Al Horford's 19 points and 16 rebounds. His frontcourt teammate Paul Millsap scored 17.
Tolliver came into the game with the team desperate to find offense and he delivered. Tolliver had 15 points in only 18 minutes, including a few key 3-points when the Pistons were in danger of letting the game slip away for good. Singler, meanwhile, was the only starter to crack 50 percent shooting and shot his team back into the game in the second half.
Anthony didn't fill up the stat sheet but he played quality paint defense after it was leaking like a sieve. Drummond, Monroe and Brandon Jennings combined to give a seeming endless amount of unimpeded looks at the basket to the Hawks. And when they weren't waltzing into the paint, the Hawks were hitting open jumpers.
The Hawks led 64-45 at the half behind 55 percent shooting, hitting eight 3s. Things tightened up in the second half when the Pistons were able to dial up the defensive intensity behind Anthony and, surprisingly, Tolliver. Look at this block:
The Pistons eventually just threw away their offensive playbook and seemed to ask anyone to make some damn 3-pointers. Eventually, they were able to scratch and claw their way back into the game and the Palace crowd responded.
Truly, the best thing about this game was probably the crowd. While quiet in the first half, when the Pistons came back the fans responded. It was loud, raucous and there were some vintage "DEEE-TROIT Basketballs!" delivered by Mason.
But the Pistons were simply overmatched. In this battle of teams happy to no longer be employing Josh Smith, Atlanta was simply the better one. As the Hawks excellent Twitter account said:
The Hawks are the Josh Smith effect fully realized RT @SBNationNBA: The Pistons’ streak is over. Atlanta survives the Josh Smith effect.— Hawksdawgs (@hawksdawgs) January 10, 2015
I came away from this game with a newfound respect for just how good the Hawks were. They look like the best team in the East and legitimate contenders for an NBA title. They are so good defensively with so many weapons offensively, that it will be hard for any team, East or West to stop them.
It's not about moral victories in Detroit with the playoffs a very real possibility, but the team showed something tonight. The unsustainably hot shooting abandoned them tonight and yet they still found a way to make it a game. Against a great team.
The idea that the Pistons are a bad basketball team that had an odd little winning streak after ditching Josh Smith needs to be put to rest. This is a good, if flawed, basketball team. And they look more and more like a team that is ready to fight its way into the playoffs.