Not Quite Enough
Pistons keep coming back, but can’t overtake Atlanta
Against an Atlanta team humbled by a Friday thrashing at Miami’s hands and looking to build momentum for its own playoff drive after losing five of its last six at home, the Pistons battled uphill all day – putting on impressive bursts to prevent the Hawks from pulling away and again revealing the depth they felt would be a strength, but ultimately losing because of too many stretches where execution betrayed them in a 104-96 loss that drops them to 25-45 with a dozen games remaining.
Take three stretches that spanned the midway point of the third quarter to the midway point of the third. Two of them were bad, the first allowing Atlanta to build a 14-point lead and the third allowing the Hawks to pull away again after a Charlie Villanueva 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter pulled them within two.
“It’s definitely a tough way to lose,” rookie Greg Monroe said after another strong outing. “We did a good job of (withstanding) all their runs, we just couldn’t overcome them.”
It was an 11-0 run by Atlanta that opened its 14-point lead. It had reached 12 with 5:33 left when John Kuester called timeout and moved Rodney Stuckey in for Rip Hamilton, who struggled to a 2-of-9 shooting performance upon returning to the team after being away since Thursday to attend his grandfather’s funeral. Led by Stuckey (22 points, eight assists) and rookie Greg Monroe (17 points, 10 rebounds), the Pistons outscored Atlanta 16-7 to close the third quarter.
But after Villanueva’s triple to open the fourth, the Pistons allowed the Hawks to go on a 13-4 run immediately to put them back in another deep hole. To their credit, they fought back yet again – Josh Smith’s shot-clock beating basket over Austin Daye in the post with 52 seconds left was the dagger, putting them down by five – but, as has been the case too often all season, their best stretches weren’t quite enough to overcome their worst.
“I thought our guys played hard and I was proud of their effort,” Kuester said. “You dig yourself a hole. They made big shots, came up with shots at the end of the shock clock. We needed a stop. I thought we had done a great job, they throw it up with two seconds to go and it goes in.”
Hamilton returned to the starting lineup, but he and the other Pistons veterans struggled. Take away Monroe’s 17 points and the other four starters combined for just 22 points, 10 of them from Tayshaun Prince.
Strong bench play carried them – just as it did in Friday’s win over the Knicks, when Kuester got 54 points from his reserves. Besides Stuckey’s 22, Chris Wilcox dropped in 18 despite dodging foul trouble, as the bench accounted for 57 of Detroit’s 96 points.
“We just missed some tough shots and we didn’t get the stops we needed on the other end,” Wilcox said. “That’s what cost us the game tonight.”
It could just as easily be the epitaph for any number of the other 44 games the Pistons have lost this season, which best explains why the playoffs that start in about four weeks aren’t likely to include them for a second straight spring.