The Atlanta Hawks did not pull the plug on playing starters on Tuesday night, but instead, Mike Budenholzer tinkered openly with the rotation. In that vein, the final result was a 105-95 loss to the Detroit Pistons, but in the first paragraph of Tuesday's obituary, it must read "here Budenholzer experimented".
In a change from Monday night, the Hawks simply couldn't get a stop in the early going. Detroit put together a 13-2 run in the early stages of the first quarter, and the Pistons converted 10 of their first 11 shots (including 4-5 from three) to build that advantage. Following the spurt, Mike Budenholzer elected to remove every member of the starting five (even Al Horford, who was 5-5 for 10 points) in favor of the second unit, and that proved fruitful.
The bench stabilized things in a hurry, helping to close the deficit to just five points after 12 minutes. On the whole, the Pistons shot 65% in the first quarter, but Atlanta also was rocking offensively, keeping things close.
The starters performed much better in their second stint to begin the second quarter, but once again, Bud elected to follow the "five-in, five-out approach", and the platoon-like deployment worked in aiding the Hawks to take the lead on a Kent Bazemore three in the final stages of the half. Detroit scored the final five points of the half, but a two-point deficit (52-50) was fortunate given what had transpired.
A slower pace was established on both ends in the second half, but the Hawks were unable to make a run in the third quarter. Budenholzer continued to use the platoon system with some success, and for the most part, the offense was driven by Shelvin Mack and Thabo Sefolosha (two somewhat unlikely sources) in the third. The ball movement was crisp with both units throughout, but the shot-making suffered and even an uptick in defense did not allow Atlanta to take a lead after three quarters.
Sadly, the Pistons constructed a significant lead coming out of the quarter break, scoring seven straight points (a 14-0 overall run) to claim a 83-72 advantage. That burst was marked by a three from Reggie Jackson that needed the aid of the backboard, but the Hawks dug themselves a hole with a lack of execution.
The Hawks did show a little bit of fight to begin the fourth quarter, scoring the first six points, but they would never climb to less than a five-point deficit. The starters would exit for the final time at the 7:18 mark of the fourth, and when they left, the group was a -11 on the evening in 24 minutes. From there, the bench allowed Detroit to build as much as a 16-point lead, and the Pistons virtually ran away with the win as Budenholzer elected to leave the starters on the pine.
Frankly, this was an odd game. Because the Hawks have clinched, Budenholzer is free to experiment with different combinations, and the substitution pattern was unique in his tenure. The bench performed valiantly for much of the night, with flashes of offensive brilliance in the area of ball movement, but the starters scuffled defensively in their 24 minutes, and the overall result was greatly impacted by Detroit's scorching hot start.
Mike Muscala was a bright spot, snatching a career-best 13 rebounds and scoring 6 points in 24 minutes, while Al Horford led the way in scoring with 16 points on 8 for 10 shooting. There will likely be a few more nights like this when everything appears to be upside down, and that is the benefit of wrapping things up early in the battle for home-court.
Stay tuned as the Atlanta Hawks take on the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night at Philips Arena.