Auburn Hills — Rookie Jonas Jerebko has been one of the few bright spots in a terrible season for the Detroit Pistons.
Now, as Detroit plays out the string, it might have found another surprising first-year contributor.
With the Pistons down to eight healthy players, Austin Daye played a career-high 44 minutes Wednesday night and finished with his first double-double in a 90-88 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Daye, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds, hadn’t played more than 33 minutes in an NBA game, and had a career high of 36 at Gonzaga.
“I was kind of surprised that I felt that good playing that many minutes,” said Daye, who played 23 minutes Tuesday night against Philadelphia. “I found out right before the game that I was starting, but I felt like I was prepared.”
The career night came at the end of a tumultuous 48 hours for Daye, who missed Detroit’s flight to Philadelphia on Monday, then took out his anger in vague messages on Twitter. He had nine points and nine rebounds in the win over the 76ers, which snapped an 11-game losing streak.
“The last month has been tough, but we didn’t want to finish the season playing that way,” Daye said. “We really tried to fire each other up for the game in Philly, and it carried over to tonight.”
Given the circumstances, Pistons coach John Kuester was impressed with his slender 6-foot-11 rookie, who has played every position from point guard to power forward.
“In the last two nights, Austin has really shown signs of figuring the game out,” Kuester said. “I can’t imagine the last time he played 44 minutes, but he did a great job.”
Daye replaced Tayshaun Prince, who missed the game for personal reasons. Detroit also came into the game missing Richard Hamilton (ankle), Jason Maxiell (back) and Chris Wilcox (hamstring), then lost Rodney Stuckey to a first-half rib injury.
The Hawks (49-29) have lost two straight and fell into a tie with Boston for third place in the Eastern Conference.
“We just self-destructed again down the stretch,” Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. “That’s something we’ve got to figure out before we start playing playoff basketball.”
Ben Gordon had 22 points for Detroit and made two key defensive plays in the final minute, while Will Bynum added 17.
“Ben hit some big shots, and he also worked hard defensively,” Kuester said. “That’s the rhythm we expect him to play.”
Jamal Crawford led Atlanta with 19 points, but missed a tying 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.
Both teams struggled offensively in the fourth quarter, but Gordon’s 3-pointer pulled the Pistons within 84-81 with 2:35 to go.
The Hawks missed three of four free-throw attempts on their next two possessions, and Bynum’s three-point play cut the Atlanta lead to 85-84 with 56.5 seconds left.
Gordon then intercepted a pass and was fouled by Mike Bibby. He hit both free throws to put the Pistons ahead, then knocked away another pass, resulting in a shot-clock violation.
“The turnovers were huge,” Woodson said. “Our veteran guards turned it over, and that shouldn’t happen. Ben Gordon gets his hands on two deflections, one leads to a foul and the other leads to a bad shot. We have to clean that up.”
Bynum made it 88-85 with two free throws, and after Crawford’s miss, Jerebko clinched the game from the line.
The game was tied at 48 at the half, but the Pistons started quickly in the third and built a 56-50 lead.
The advantage was short-lived, however, as Atlanta responded with a 20-6 run to go up 70-62 late in the period, and the Hawks still led by seven entering the fourth.
Notes: Ben Wallace made all four free throws in the game, extending his streak to six. Before that, he had missed 22 of his previous 25 attempts. … Because of the Detroit injuries, veteran reserve Chucky Atkins played for the first time since March 15. … Kuester and Woodson were both assistants under Larry Brown on Detroit’s 2004 championship team.