The Atlanta Hawks dropped their second straight game losing an 86-85 contest to the Detroit Pistons in Joe Johnson's return to action. After a recent stretch of good play the Hawks looked passive and lethargic for much of Friday's game and were really lucky to be in the game at the end considering how bad the third quarter was.
Atlanta has been plagued by slow starts in the second half of many games this season. Friday night was one of those games as the Hawks were outscored 26-12 by the Pistons erasing a nine point half time lead and putting Atlanta in full catch up mode. Atlanta was held without a field goal for more than 13 minutes in the second half and trailed by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Josh Smith spent much of that third quarter saddled to the bench in foul trouble after picking up his fourth and fifth fouls in the third quarter. Smith picked up his fourth with 7:22 to go in the third and Larry Drew decided to stick with him until the 4:55 mark of the quarter when he was whistled for his fifth on a charge call against the Pistons' Jason Maxiell.
After two quick buckets by the Pistons to start the fourth quarter, Drew reinserted Smith back into the lineup with 11:27 to go in the game but the foul trouble negated a lot of his effectiveness on the defensive end of the floor. Even after trailing 75-63 with just over eight minutes remaining in the game, the Hawks would once again mount a charge and retake the lead. With the Pistons leading 84-83, Ivan Johnson poked the ball way from Greg Monroe into the hands of Jeff Teague who raced to the other end for a lay up to give the Hawks an 85-84 lead with just 36 seconds remaining.
The Pistons retook the lead 86-85 on a running hook shot from Tayshaun Prince with just 24 seconds remaining setting up the final shot for the Hawks. Atlanta elected to go with the guard-to-guard screen and roll involving Jeff Teague and Joe Johnson. The goal was to try to get a switch of the smaller Rodney Stuckey onto Joe Johnson. The Pistons elected to trap Johnson who swung the ball back to Teague who hesitated for a split second before giving the ball back to Johnson.
In this situation Teague has to be ready to either take the shot or drive into the lane for the shot and has to be expecting that teams are going to double Johnson. Teague passed the ball back to Johnson who then tried to go one on one with Stuckey but having caught the ball so far away from the basket it negated Johnson's size advantage. The play ended with a Johnson attempt from the corner that Josh Smith rebounded but his follow came after the buzzer giving the Pistons the win.
Despite the foul trouble, Josh Smith ended up leading the team with 21 points on 8-19 shooting and finished with seven rebounds to go along with three assists. Joe Johnson had 18 points and four assists on 6-12 shooting in his return to action. Marvin Williams played well scoring 16 points and hitting 4-7 three-point attempts. Ivan Johnson scored 10 points off the bench and recorded five steals in the game. Kirk Hinrich added nine points on 3-5 shooting.
Atlanta did a good job defensively on Detroit's backcourt tandem of Brandan Knight and Rodney Stuckey. Knight finished with six points and four assists while Stuckey added 11. The Hawks weren't as fortunate against the front court as Greg Monroe scored 20 points to lead the team and Jason Maxiell added 19 points and 12 boards. Tashaun Prince scored 17 including the game winner.
Detroit had a 44-36 edge in points in the paint and out rebounded the Hawks 37-24 in the game. With Al Horford injured, Atlanta is going to have a hard time matching teams like the Pistons when Zaza Pachulia and Josh Smith combine for nine rebounds. Pachulia wasn't a factor in this game after picking up two fouls and finished with two points and two rebounds in under 15 minutes of playing time.
Its quite possible that this team has been performing knowing that Josh Smith had requested to be traded for sometime but when it goes public it becomes that much bigger of a monster to deal with. Smith himself had to answer questions about the trade demand during the pregame broadcast and no doubt his teammates are getting asked at every opportunity. Kirk Hinrich is also heavily involved in rumors and Larry Drew talked in the pregame about how unsettling it can be to a club. Smith didn't play bad in this game but even he didn't look like he had the same energy or same drive that we saw earlier this week. Perhaps that has to do with the schedule after all the Hawks haven't swept the Pistons in Detroit since the mid 90's.
If it was the rumors that affected the club then they are going to have to figure out how to deal with them because it doesn't look like they are going away anytime soon.