The Atlanta Hawks came into Tuesday's game against the Detroit Pistons with a chance to increase their lead in the East standings against the idle Knicks. However, Atlanta failed to step up to the plate in a 102-95 loss and saw their lead trimmed to 1.5 games over New York in the process.
"The way we started tonight, we dug ourselves a hole," said head coach Mike Budenholzer. "I guess at one point we were able to come back and take the lead, but I think the energy and effort that it took to dig ourselves out of the hole that was created in the 1st quarter really, in a lot of ways, was the game. As a group, we need to have better focus to start the game. It wasn't there, and we all need to learn from it, and we need to continue. We have a game tomorrow. We are going to do our best to learn from it, prepare, and move on."
It was a stark contrast from Atlanta's last two games where they had buried the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers with strong first quarters. The Hawks led the Cavs 39-23 and made 67 percent of their attempts in the first quarter last Friday. They followed that up by jumping on the Pacers 33-11 in the first 12 minutes on Sunday.
"I think there was a lack of focus to start the game," said Budenholzer. "Coming off a win, coming off a loss, at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. We have to have more focus and be mentally tougher to start a game and throughout the game. You can never explain why."
The win was Detroit's 12th on the road this season and it came without Atlanta native Josh Smith who was a late scratch due to what was termed a knee issue. The Pistons didn't need him on Tuesday night as they convert on 43 percent of their shots, beat Atlanta up on the boards and held the Hawks to 38 percent shooting.
"We didn't come out with the intensity we should have," said guard Kyle Korver who finished with 12 points but was just 4-16 from the field. "We were hoping to build off last game when we came out very focused and on fire with attention to detail. Tonight, especially on the defensive end, we weren't very sharp. They had 35 in the 1st quarter."
Hawks center Elton Brand agreed with his teammate Korver. "We didn't come out with focus and energy at the beginning. We know we can beat any team or lose to any team in this league. We just got off to a poor start. It's hard to fight back after that."
Atlanta is in the midst of a four games in five nights sequence and will host the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. The Knicks are once again idle so Atlanta has the opportunity to to go back in front by two games. The Hawks still lead New York by two games in the loss column but a loss on Wednesday could make things really interesting heading into the weekend.