Maxiell lifts Pistons over Hawks 86-85

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — If Jason Maxiell gets traded in the next week, no one will be happier than the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks play the Pistons two more times this season, but they are already sick of Maxiell. The power forward is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds against the Hawks this season, including 19 points and had 12 boards in Detroit’s 86-85 victory Friday night.

“He’s always been a thorn in our side,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “He treats every shot on either end as a missed shot, so you’ve always got to find him, and you’ve always got to put a body on him. We couldn’t do that tonight.”

Maxiell finished 9-of-11 from the floor, and his biggest basket might have been the last one. With 3:22 left and the Hawks within 82-80, Maxiell emphatically slammed home Tayshaun Prince’s missed jumper.

“If there was an MVP of this game, it was Jason Maxiell,” Lawrence Frank said. “He was a game changer tonight. That tip-in was a momentum-changing play, just when things were going a bit stale for us.”

Maxiell also limited red-hot Josh Smith to 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting.

“Josh has been playing at a very, very high level — he had 30-plus points in three of his last four games — but Max did a really good job of limiting what Josh was doing,” Frank said. “He was very, very good on both ends.”

The Pistons scored only once in the final three minutes — a running hook by Prince with 24.3 seconds left — but that was just enough to get the win.

The Hawks rallied to take an 85-84 lead when Jeff Teague blew past Prince for a layup with 36.6 seconds left, but Prince made up for it with his lefty hook at the other end.

Detroit then forced Joe Johnson into a contested three-pointer that bounced off the rim as time ran down. For once, Maxiell wasn’t in the right place, but Smith’s game-winning put-back left his hand a heartbeat after the buzzer.

The officials reviewed the play, but even Smith knew the outcome.

“I knew it was late,” he said. “I didn’t even see any reason sticking around for them to look at it.”

That gave the Pistons a victory despite a horrid start that saw the Hawks hit their first nine shots, including two dunks and an easy layup for Smith. After that, though, Maxiell started to take over the game.

“He got off to a slow start against Josh, but both he and Jonas (Jerebko) really picked it up and improved their defense against him,” Frank said. “We established a defensive tone after halftime, and we were able to find a way to win against a quality opponent.”

Although Maxiell is best-known for his thundering dunks, he showed another side of his game against the Hawks. The Pistons got back into the game by outscoring Atlanta 26-12 in the third quarter, with Maxiell hitting three straight mid-range jumpers.

“Normally, you are happy to let Maxiell take that jumper because you don’t want to let him get into the paint,” Smith said. “This year, though, he’s made a ton of those jump shots.”

Double-doubles this week in victories over the Lakers and Hawks have shown that Maxiell might be able to help a contender, but his $5 million contract makes a deal less likely.

That’s fine with the Pistons.

“Max was on fire tonight,” said his backup, Jerebko. “We’ve been seeing this in practice, so it was good to see in a game. He’s really a great player.”