AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — I think it’s finally safe to say that these Pistons are not the same ones who started the season 0-8.
Those Pistons had leads late and couldn’t hold them.
These Pistons somehow are managing to hang on for victory more often than not.
That’s how they were able to defeat an Atlanta Hawks team that came into the game 20-10 and just two games behind the Miami Heat in the Southeast Division.
So even when the Pistons saw their 17-point, fourth-quarter lead dwindle to one point, they managed to make just enough plays to hold on for an 85-84 win in front of 14,832 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
“If it ain’t rough, it ain’t right, I guess,” coach Lawrence Frank said, channeling former Piston Chauncey Billups. “That’s what they say, Bad Boys for life. You’d rather learn these lessons in a win than in a loss.”
The Pistons (13-22) are in the midst of a season-high four-game winning streak and have won six of their last seven.
In addition to playing better, the Pistons have had a bit of luck.
Al Horford, who had 18 points and 15 rebounds, looked as though he had tied the game at 85 when he hit a basket that was ruled a three-pointer with 5.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But the referees reviewed the play and ruled that Horford’s toe was on the line, changing it to a two-point basket.
It then looked disastrous as Tayshaun Prince was trying to in-bound the ball and Jeff Teague intercepted it with 4.1 seconds left.
But Frank had rookie Andre Drummond in for defense, and he managed to partially block Lou Williams’ last-second shot.
“(Horford) passed the ball over to Lou, and I ran to the corner and got a piece of the ball,” Drummond said. “It shows that we keep fighting and we keep playing with energy when things get tough for us and we can’t score on the offensive end. We always turn it around and get stops on the defensive end.”
Frank acknowledged that the Pistons have plenty to work on with the mistakes they made in the fourth quarter, allowing the Hawks to come back, but he was certainly pleased with the result.
“I thought it was going to be a three,” Frank said of Horford’s basket. “I guess my eyesight’s going.
“Thank God for instant replay.”
Jason Maxiell finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, none bigger than one on Zaza Pachulia with 1:08 to play. Maxiell also nearly saved a turnover by diving on the floor for the ball, but he just missed it.
“This is the second game in a row where Max, down the stretch, made some huge energy hustle plays,” Frank said. “Give him credit, he’s sitting there for a while now, and to respond and do what he did, you know those are winning-type plays that we need.”
The Pistons have also been winning thanks to their bench, which has been spectacular of late.
Rodney Stuckey returned after missing three games with a left ankle sprain to score 10 of the bench’s 41 points. Atlanta’s bench managed just 14 points.
The bench star was Austin Daye, who led the Pistons with 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Daye, along with Charlie Villanueva and Will Bynum, were fixtures on the bench a few short weeks ago and are now key contributors.
“I was just fortunate enough to hit some shots early on,” Daye said. “But the whole thing is that we’re playing so good as a unit, the second unit, and the first unit is just feeding off of us and we’re feeding off of them. So we’re just doing a good job as a whole team. To get four wins in a row, it’s a good feeling.”