The Hawks didn't manhandle the Detroit Pistons, a team that has now lost seven road games in a row and is 20 games under .500. Against possibly the worst defensive team in the NBA, the Hawks barely gave them a hard shove.
But the Hawks won 104-96 on Sunday at Philips Arena to halt, at least temporarily, a slide in which they had lost six of their previous eight games, the last five by double figures. That sufficed.
"We were just keeping them at arm's length, it seems like, the whole game," guard Kirk Hinrich said. "It wasn't the prettiest of games, but I felt like our effort and mindset was where it needs to be."
A day after a players-only meeting and two days after a 21-point home loss to the Miami Heat, the Hawks played with an edge. A team that had grown reliant on jump shots still shot plenty of them -- 40 of their 70 shots were from 16 feet or beyond -- but also attacked the rim more than in recent games.
"That was a point of emphasis going into [Sunday's] game," coach Larry Drew said.
That aggression produced 31 free throws, the most since their Feb. 5 win over Washington, after which the team went 6-12 before Sunday. Center Zaza Pachulia racked up 10 free throws alone. The Hawks also cleared 100 points for just the third time in the past 20 games.
The Hawks executed their offense better (25 assists on 37 field goals) and showed more determination to start their fast break. A telling play came in the fourth quarter. Forward Josh Smith led a fast break that found Hinrich in the corner. Hinrich swung the ball to guard Joe Johnson, but, with a defender closing, Johnson whipped the ball back to Hinrich, who made an open 3-point try that gave the Hawks an 89-81 lead with 8:31 to play.
"We did a good job of that all night, just sharing the ball no matter what happened," said Hinrich, who had six assists and was largely responsible for holding Pistons guard Richard Hamilton to six points.
Following Hinrich's 3-pointer, the lead grew to 11 points with 7:27 remaining before the Hawks slipped and allowed Detroit to narrow the lead to three points on three separate occasions, the last with 2:02 remaining. Two Hawks possessions later, Smith banked a turnaround hook shot from five feet with 52.1 seconds left and the shot clock expiring to return the lead to five points. He hit a free throw with 36.0 seconds left to create another five-point lead that effectively put the game out of reach.
Horford produced his 32nd double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, both team highs. Johnson, still wearing a headband to protect a head wound,handed out eight assists and scored 17 points. Posting up and driving to the rim, Johnson had five of his seven baskets come from inside seven feet.
Said Drew, "I thought he was very patient in the double team."
Of course, it requires more than a win over a lottery team to determine if the Hawks' slide has ended. Back-to-back games on Tuesday against Chicago and on Wednesday on the road against Philadelphia, two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, will reveal more.
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