Shut-down defense, bench edge power Pistons to runaway win over Atlanta


Three quick observations from Monday night’s 100-86 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Little Caesars Arena

D FOR DEFENSE – Dwane Casey has said it after more than one loss this season when the Pistons, who sacrificed a good chunk of their 3-point shooting in phase one of their roster reconstruction: “You can’t make enough twos in today’s NBA to win games.” The Pistons were on the right side of that equation in Monday’s win over Atlanta, outscoring the Hawks 27-12 from the 3-point arc and limiting Atlanta to 14.8 percent shooting from the arc and 38.8 percent overall while forcing 16 turnovers and blocking eight shots. The Hawks, playing without All-Star guard Trae Young and coming off a Sunday win over Milwaukee, looked flat and punchless most of the night. But the Pistons had a lot to do with Atlanta’s difficulty scoring, too. They took away the 3-point shot from the players that warranted the most attention – Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Danilo Gallinari were limited to a combined six attempts, making just one – and backed off Young’s stand-in at point guard, Brandon Goodwin, who went 0 of 6 from the arc. Bogdan Bogdanovic wound up Atlanta’s leading scorer with 17 points, but shot just 7 of 19. The Pistons opened the game’s biggest lead to that point at 15 late in the third quarter, but Atlanta closed on a 8-0 run to get back within seven points. Kevin Huerter’s triple ended third-quarter scoring and was only the third Hawks triple of the night in 20 attempts at the time. A pair of Frank Jackson triples early in the fourth quarter enabled the Pistons to take their lead back to 14.

ROOKIE VS. ROOKIE – There were two outstanding freshmen big men in the Pac-12 Conference for the 2019-20 season who would taken within the first 16 picks of the NBA’s 2020 draft, but if you guessed either Southern Cal’s Onyeka Okongwu or Washington’s Isaiah Stewart won the Freshman of the Year award, you’d be wrong. That went to another center, Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji, who was the 22nd pick, going to Denver. Okongwu was taken sixth by Atlanta, one spot ahead of the Pistons taking Killian Hayes, and Stewart went 16th with a pick the Pistons acquired from Houston. Okongwu and Stewart first entered Monday’s game at the same time, coming on with four minutes to play in the first quarter. Okongwu picked up two quick fouls and left after five minutes with no shots and one rebound. Stewart played 10 minutes and scored two points with four rebounds and a blocked shot. Stewart, averaging 7.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in 20 minutes a game, finished with four points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in 27 minutes. Okongwu, slowed by a foot injury to start the season, is averaging 3.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in 11 minutes a game. He finished with two points, two rebounds, a block and a steal in 10 minutes on Monday.

JOSH JACKSON SITS – Josh Jackson missed Monday’s game due to illness, which put Wayne Ellington back in the starting lineup next to Cory Joseph in the backcourt. The second unit consisted of rookies Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart plus Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson and Sekou Doumbouya. That unit played especially well at the defensive end and wound up outscoring Atlanta’s bench 44-22. Dwane Casey never had to bring his starters back after the third quarter and closed the game by bringing Saben Lee, Tyler Cook and Devidas Sirvydis in to finish alongside Stewart and Frank Jackson. Diallo bounced back after a recent rough patch – he was a combined 6 of 34 shooting over his last six games – with 14 points. Frank Jackson had another outstanding game, scoring 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting, making 3 of 5 from the 3-point line. Hayes scored just two points but had four rebounds, five assists and three steals. Over the final 10 games of the season, Dwane Casey says he’d like to get more opportunity to play with three-guard lineups, though the continuing absence of Dennis Smith Jr., who missed his ninth straight game with left knee soreness, complicates his ability to do so.