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Red-hot Hawks make it 13 straight, pull away from Pistons late

Glass half full: The Pistons shot 35 percent against the hottest team in the league on their floor and still spent the vast majority of the game within two or three possessions of the lead.

Glass half empty: Atlanta's defense is no fluke. If the Pistons are to beat the Hawks – and a 1-8 playoff matchup involving them certainly is now well within the realm of the possible – they're going to have to do a better job of cracking perhaps the league's most cohesive defensive unit.

"Our offense has been good. We were just bad today," Stan Van Gundy said after the 93-82 Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee loss to the Hawks. "We were bad and we didn't take care of the ball. But their defense, give 'em a lot of credit. They're one of the top five defensive teams in the league and they played very, very good defense today. I thought they did a better job of taking us out of what we wanted to do than we did taking them out of what they wanted."

To the extent the Pistons spent much time analyzing the loss – and with another game 48 hours away, not much – they'll wonder how much of it was Atlanta's physical defense and how much was them. They committed 19 turnovers and made just 9 of 35 (25.7 percent) from the 3-point line, missing their first eight triples. They scored only 12 first-quarter points, yet trailed by only four.

Both Greg Monroe and Jodie Meeks gave the same two-word initial response to the question of what makes Atlanta such a good defensive team when they don't appear to have individually dominant defenders: "They're active."

"They did a good job of taking away the initial punch and stuff we wanted to do," said Meeks, a Georgia native who scored 11 off the bench. "I thought we played well – just needed a couple more shots to fall to get over the hump, but it didn't happen."

Only two Pistons, D.J. Augustin (4 of 5) and Andre Drummond (5 of 9) made more than half of their shots and the Hawks were dead set on making sure Drummond didn't get many attempts. When he was near the rim and they had a defender within arm's length of him, they fouled him. Though Drummond had been much improved from the line of late, he had a rough day, 3 of 12, and didn't play in the fourth quarter though he still wound up with 13 points and 18 rebounds.

"What made the decision is we got behind," Van Gundy said. "If you run a pick and roll and throw him the ball, he's not going to get a chance to score. They're just going to foul him. And the way he was shooting, it was tough to come back. I wasn't upset at him. I actually thought he played well, but it was clear they were not going to let him get a layup at the basket. We were going to play four on five on the offensive end. If you have the lead, you can maybe get away with that, but when you're behind it's tough."

The 82 points the Pistons scored were their fewest since their 79 in the season-opening loss at Denver.

"Because of their bigs, they can switch a little bit more and it really doesn't hurt them," Monroe said. "There are a few different reasons why they're good defensively. We had some looks that are the kind of shots we normally make. They just didn't fall tonight. A little bit of them, a little bit of us."

Monroe finished with 16 points and 20 rebounds as the Pistons dominated the glass 61-42, 20-5 on the offensive end. But even that wasn't enough to overcome the 35 percent shooting and 19 turnovers.

"We've been a low-turnover team all year and we did a really poor job taking care of the ball today," Van Gundy said. "Our guys know that you're going to have trouble, especially against good teams, if you're turning it over 19 times."

The Hawks weren't the only team to play pretty good defense, though. The Pistons held Atlanta to 44 percent shooting and 10 points under its average. Van Gundy ticked off four Hawks as All-Star candidates before the game – Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver – and the Pistons did a reasonably good job on them. But Millsap did score 20, matched up his backup at power forward, Mike Scott. It wasn't coincidental that both Atlanta power forwards had big scoring days.

"Scott hurt us and Millsap hurt us," Van Gundy said. "Our four men had a tough day. We put them in a tough defensive scheme. We focused more on trying to stop the guards' penetration and to stay home on Korver as much as we could. We did a reasonably good job of what we wanted to do, but what we opened up was some of those big guys. To take those guys out, then you open up other stuff. They're very, very good.

"I thought our defense was reasonably good. I thought our rebounding was very good. Our offense was terrible and it was as much my fault as our players' fault."

Van Gundy said he could never find a play or a concept that worked consistently well against the Hawks.

"It was frustrating on my part," he said. "We just couldn't get it going offensively, but I give their defense a lot of credit. They did a really, really good job and when we did execute well and get the ball for layups, they just grabbed us. That makes your defense look a lot better, too, when you don't have to give up layups. You just foul."

For all of that – the 19 turnovers, the 35 percent shooting, the 58 percent foul shooting – the Pistons know they had a better shot to knock off Atlanta than pretty much anyone has had in their torrid two-month stretch.

"We fought hard," Meeks said. "We would've liked to have gotten the win – there's no moral victories in this league – but we played better than we did the last time we played them. Next time we play them, we'll be ready."