Wallaces Lead Pistons Past the Hawks
Detroit 91, Atlanta 84
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., March 20 (Ticker) -- All-Star Rasheed Wallace and the Detroit Pistons moved within a win of their latest Central Division crown in impressive fashion.
Wallace scored 17 of his 26 points in the first half and Tayshaun Prince added 18 as the Pistons moved with a win or a Cleveland loss of clinching their fourth division title in five seasons with a 91-84 triumph over the Atlanta Hawks.
One of the Pistons' losses this season was a 99-98 setback against the Hawks on February 7. On Monday, the league-leading Pistons (53-13) took control from the outset, building a double-digit lead after one quarter and a 53-34 advantage at the break.
Reserve Maurice Evans scored eight points in an 18-6 surge to start the second quarter that helped the Pistons open things up. The third-year guard buried a pair of 3-pointers during the burst.
"We stepped our defense up in the first quarter and kept it up throughout the second," said Prince, who shot 9-of-14 overall. "We played great basketball in the first half."
Wallace also was huge in the first half as he made 7-of-12 shots, including 2-of-4 attempts from the arc. The Pistons forced the Hawks into 12 of their 17 turnovers in the first half.
"There were a lot of mismatches because they were switching a lot," Wallace said. "We ran the pick-and-roll with me and Chauncey (Billups), me and Richard (Hamilton) or me and Tayshaun. That left things wide open down low."
"He's definitely their X-factor," said Hawks forward Al Harrington, who scored 23 points. "He's always solid and when he's not solid he's even better. Then he's pretty darn near impossible to beat."
Atlanta closed to 57-47 with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter. However, Detroit rebuilt its 15-point advantage when Wallace found a slicing Prince for a one-handed dunk with 4 1/2 minutes remaining.
"I'm pretty pleased with our effort and the way we fought back in the second half," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "We kind of went haywire the last three or four minutes, so instead of coming out of the quarter down six or seven, we were down 10."
The backcourt duo of Billups and Hamilton scored 14 points apiece for the Pistons, who improved to 29-2 at home and 31-8 against Eastern Conference foes.
"I didn't know that until now, but that's good because our first goal was to win the division," Billups said of capturing the division. "Now we have to get home court."
Saunders was concerned that the Pistons, who play Miami on Wednesday, would be looking past the Hawks.
"At the shootaround I heard some guys mention some stuff about Miami," Saunders said. "I was concerned we might overlook Atlanta but we came out like a well-oiled machine."
It was Detroit's 15th straight victory at home, tying the 1985-86 and 1989-90 teams for the third longest home-court winning streak in club history. The win also moved the Pistons moved 40 games above .500 for the first time since their 1988-89 championship season.
Joe Johnson scored 17 points and Josh Smith added 14 and seven rebounds for Atlanta, which shot 46 percent (37-of-79) and made just 4-of-12 free throws.
"We've had our chances to win all of those games," said Harrington, who made 10-of-19 shots. "We haven't been blown out. Teams are just out-executing us at times. It might come down to one possession or a turnover. Our margin for error is very slim, but we're getting a lot better.
"We're going through some growing pains, but the more we stay in these games, the more we're going to win."