Pistons lose in Smith, KCP’s return to Georgia as offense sputters
Smith, who grew up in Atlanta and spent his first nine NBA seasons there before signing with the Pistons as a free agent last summer, and Caldwell-Pope, who grew up about an hour southwest of Atlanta and played his college basketball in nearby Athens, combined to shoot 6 of 24 against the Hawks and missed all 10 of their 3-point tries as the Pistons lost 93-85 Wednesday.
“It was a little different, but I’m glad I got this one under my belt,” Smith said. “Now we can move on and just focus on basketball.”
It was the kind of game begging to be won but for the want of one good run, one dominant defensive stand, one hot shooter. The Pistons could never find anything to hang their hat on aside from a brilliant second quarter from Rodney Stuckey, who scored 12 of his 18 points then and allowed the Pistons to recover from a dreadful offensive start. They made 1 of their first 9 shots, yet never trailed by more than seven points and actually took the lead in the second quarter behind Stuckey.
But, bottom line, the Pistons aren’t going to win many games when their frontcourt loses the production battle. Atlanta’s trio of Al Horford, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll combined for 40 points and 20 boards, while Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Smith managed a mere 28 points and 22 rebounds. Continuing a season-long theme, the Hawks especially hurt the Pistons inside on pick-and-roll plays.
“It’s multiple things,” Monroe said. “I think we have to get better at guarding it with more than two people. We have to guard it with two people, but in this league there are going to be a lot of plays where they might beat two people and it’s our second line of defense that we have a little trouble with.”
“It was what I expected: a few cheers and some boos, but it’s all good.”- Josh Smith on the Atlanta fans
Full game quotes
Maybe a better example of how different this game was for the Pistons is that the trio of Monroe, Drummond and Smith combined to attempt only four free throws. Monroe, their primary post scoring threat, managed only eight shots from the field. Smith said he didn’t think he played out of character despite the hoopla surrounding his return and his 5 of 15 shooting, which included four missed 3-pointers.
“I was good,” he said. “I took the shots I normally take. Just they weren’t able to drop tonight.”
For all of that, they still led 57-53 midway through the third quarter when Brandon Jennings picked up the baton, doing almost all of his damage in the last two minutes of the first half and into the third quarter. But just when they looked ready to grind the Hawks under their heels, the Pistons committed two straight turnovers and got misses from Jennings and Monroe. The Hawks, meanwhile, tied the game at 57 and then hit three straight triples to take the lead. The Pistons tied the game at 66 early in the fourth quarter, but never led again.
Not for lack of creativity from Cheeks, again dealing with a shortened backcourt as Chauncey Billups missed his fourth straight game and Will Bynum his third straight. Charlie Villaneuva was also out, missing his second straight with a sore back.
Combined with foul trouble for Drummond and the effects of a back-to-back game, Cheeks had to get creative. He used Gigi Datome for 11 minutes, and while he hit two jump shots including a triple, Atlanta went to powerful inside players Mike Scott and Millsap whenever Datome was guarding them, a tough matchup for the Italian rookie. Cheeks also went to Peyton Siva for six first-half minutes and to Josh Harrellson for six second-half minutes. Harrellson, a more rugged defender than Datome, hit a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to pull the Pistons within two headed to the fourth.
“Greg needed a rest, Drummond was in foul trouble and they had a couple of big guys out there, so I had to use him,” Cheeks said. “I thought he did OK.”
Of course, the fact Cheeks had to scramble to little-used options speaks to the struggles of their night.
“We played in spurts tonight and we didn’t give energy for the full game,” Smith said. “That’s what we need to do in order to win on back-to-back games. We have to dig down a little deeper. We’ll be OK. It’s still a work in progress. We’ll be OK.”