Pistons Host East-Leading Hawks

Jan 19, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) dribbles the ball against the Detroit Pistons during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 93-82. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 19, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) dribbles the ball against the Detroit Pistons during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 93-82. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /


  • Teams: Atlanta Hawks (56-18) at Detroit Pistons (28-45)
  • Date: March 31
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD+

Get in the Game

After stumbling a little on the road against the Miami Heat, the Detroit Pistons will try to bounce back tonight against the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks own the top record in the Eastern Conference and have clinched home court advantage, which opens up the door for resting players. However, if the Hawks have any sense of history, they will avoid that tactic unless absolutely necessary.

During the 2007-08 campaign, the Hawks (37-45) had a first-round matchup with a juggernaut Boston Celtics (66-16) team that eventually went on to win the title. And yet, the Hawks pushed the Celtics to seven games in the series.

One could attribute that to the fact that Boston was in the midst of its first postseason run with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, but I do believe that part of the problem stemmed from the notion that head coach Doc Rivers rested key players down the stretch of the regular season.

It threw off the timing and chemistry just enough to give an inferior Hawks team a chance to take out the Celtics.

Boston ultimately prevailed, but I’d have to think that the Atlanta franchise took note of what happened to the Celtics, despite the fact that the Hawks coaching staff has since changed. In other words, expect Atlanta to play its best players, which hardly bodes well for the rest of conference.

At their best, the Hawks are a poor man’s version of the San Antonio Spurs—the defending champs.

Atlanta doesn’t have Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard, but they have third-tier players that come close to replicating their contributions (save for Leonard who might be the perimeter version of Kevin Garnett in his defensive prime).

The Hawks run a motion-style offense that can at times offer comical relief given the ease with which it produces high-quality looks. In a recent game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta ran a series of screens to get Kyle Korver an open three-point look, and the Bucks defended it splendidly…except for the fact it led to a layup. Milwaukee was so worried about Korver shaking loose that it allowed Jeff Teague to make a simple crossover and get all the way to the rim for a score.

Therein lies the issue when defending these Hawks. Instead of relying on a single player, they emphasize the concept of team and move the ball around until an open shot comes of it. The tricky thing with screening and passing is that defenses eventually cave and start switching to avoid giving up open shots. Once that happens, Atlanta will toast its opponent.

Whether it’s Paul Millsap or Al Horford, the moment either one has an advantage on the interior, their teammates will notice it and attack immediately. This is one of the reasons teams generally prefer to only switch late in the shot clock, but even that strategy has its challenge given that it leads to offensive rebounds.

Interestingly enough, the Pistons are a strong rebounding team for the most part, which means they might be able to get away with such a tactic. Otherwise, I’m not sure Detroit has the attention to detail and discipline to make every single timely defensive rotation to thwart Atlanta.

Perhaps the Pistons can do it for a quarter or a half, but asking a team with a few key young players to pull it off for a full 48 minutes could border on ludicrous. Thus, I think Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy alternates in an effort to keep Atlanta off balance and to protect his own team.

On offense, Detroit should consider going small in spurts to take advantage of the fact that Millsap tends to commit quite early defensively. Indeed, he will leave his man and crash down the paint to protect against drives, and the Pistons need to make those decisions matter. Misdirection, drive and kick, multiple pick-and-rolls and some screen-the-screener action under the basket with his man are all ways to go in order to exploit his tendencies.

Stan used to run a pick-and-pop post-up play when he coached Shaquille O’Neal with the Miami Heat and Dwight Howard with the Orlando Magic, and maybe utilizing it with Andre Drummond tonight could lead to great results.

Essentially, the point guard and power forward run a pick-and-pop, and the four-man stretches out to the top of the key or beyond three-point line to force the defender to run and close out, which allows the center (Drummond) to catch the ball right in the restricted area against a single defender.

The Pistons will have ways to exploit the Hawks tonight, but the same is true for Atlanta. In fact, The Hawks will have more options at their disposal, and ultimately that will be the difference in the contest.

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