But Atlanta was happy to trade two points for three, outscoring the Pistons 42-9 from the 3-point line. Couple Atlanta’s perimeter potency with a career night for Al Horford – a 23-point, 22-rebound virtuoso as he became just the sixth player with a 20-20 game against the Pistons in the past decade – and you get the 114-103 thumping the Pistons were administered.
The Pistons were down three key players: Brandon Knight missed his third straight game since suffering a hyperextended right knee in last week’s win at Charlotte, Will Bynum sat out his one-game suspension for hitting Tyler Hansbrough in Saturday’s loss to Indiana and Andre Drummond remains out due to his back injury. They were also playing their fifth game in seven nights since returning from the All-Star break, and the mix-and-match lineups Lawrence Frank has been forced to use can’t help with defensive communication.
“I wouldn’t want to say because we’re playing different guys, because that’s no excuse,” Frank said. “We have to give more multiple effort. We’ve got to do the stuff that’s really hard. What we’ve seen since the break – Memphis, Indiana twice and tonight, these are three guaranteed playoff teams. They’re playing for seeding. We have to have a higher calling. We have to continue to be more committed. A little bit shorthanded – no excuse. We just need to put more intensity into the game. We’ve got to make things hard for the opponent and we didn’t do that tonight.”
The Pistons simply got beat too often in transition, even if the Hawks were finishing many of those opportunities with jump shots rather than dunks or layups. Too many of those jump shots were uncontested.
“Their bigs ran well,” Jason Maxiell said. “We didn’t get back and it let to easy buckets and a lot of points on fast breaks. We pride ourselves on attacking the rim. That was a goal for the night, but defensively, they had open shots they knocked down.” Horford, Maxiell said, “was pretty much tearing us up.”
He wasn’t the only Hawk to put up big numbers. Jeff Teague scored 20 points, dished out 12 assists and committed just one turnover. And those two, Frank said, were the focal point coming in.
“Just from a straight stats standpoint, when Horford scores 20 or more, they’re 15 and 2,” Frank said. “The lowest-scoring quarter they had was 26. It’s an anomaly to have that many points in the paint, but we gave them 31 points in transition. That’s not the formula to win basketball games.”
With Bynum and Knight both missing, Frank used rookies Khris Middleton and Kim English to fill in but rode starters Jose Calderon and Rodney Stuckey for most of the night. The most interesting rotation change came at power forward, when Frank said he’s going to use all three of Maxiell, Charlie Villanueva and Jonas Jerebko for the foreseeable future.
Jerebko responded with 21 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes.
“We’re going to continue to shake the tree and do some different things,” Frank said. “Not just at that spot but at other spots, as well. The plan going in was to see if I could play three of those guys. It’s a unique situation. I’m going to go that way for a little bit. We’ll see how that works out.”
“I just try to make the simply play and shoot the open shot,” Jerebko said. “I saw an opening a couple of times and took the ball to the rack. With playing time comes confidence. That’s all I’m looking for.”
Stuckey led the Pistons with 22 points. Greg Monroe appeared headed for a monster game with he finished the first quarter with seven points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot. But Horford outshone all big men, becoming the second player to put up a 20 and 20 on the Pistons this season. Joakim Noah had 30 points and 23 boards in Chicago’s December win at The Palace.
Seven Hawks, including all five starters, made at least one 3-pointer. Kyle Korver hit 5 of 7 and Devin Harris 3 of 5. The Pistons, a top-five team defending the 3-point line for much of the season, had slid to 10th coming into the game and have given up nearly 11 a game over their last four.
“I feel like we’re a better defensive than we’ve been showing and we’ve got play harder,” Jerebko said. “We’ve got to come out and play harder in the first quarter and we’ve got to finish the game strong.”