Atlanta — It’s still not time to start talking about moral victories for the Pistons.
They’ve played three games against likely playoff teams, but they don’t have a victory to show for it yet.
They were shorthanded, but they still stayed within single digits in the third quarter against the Atlanta Hawks. The offense sputtered again, the defense didn’t have an answer for All-Star guard Trae Young, and the Hawks rolled to a 122-104 victory on Monday night at State Farm Arena.
The Pistons (0-3) were without leading scorer Jerami Grant, who sat out because of an elbow infection, and the offense struggled in the first quarter, shooting only 27% (6-of-22) from the field.
Kelly Olynyk, who started in place of Grant, had 21 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Saddiq Bey added 21 points and seven rebounds. Josh Jackson, who also started for the first time the season, had 18 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Killian Hayes had his best game of the season, with 12 points and three assists.
“We weren’t making shots, but in our first two games, we bounced back and were playing defense,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We made up for it with our defensive intensity, and I thought we let our guard down tonight, in transition, drives, rolls to the basket.
“Trae Young has a lot to do it. He’s a great player and he has a lot of attention, but he’s a great passer. We lost our defensive intensity and our defensive mojo.”
The Pistons were within 82-75 at the 3:49 mark of the third quarter following a 7-0 run, with two free throws by Trey Lyles, a three-point play by Isaiah Stewart (13 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four blocks) and a lay-in by Bey.
Cam Reddish (17 points) answered with a 3-pointer, starting a decisive 13-2 run that also included 3-pointers by Lou Williams and Gorgui Dieng, a drive by Young (32 points and nine assists) and another jumper by Dieng.
That rally pushed the lead to 95-77 in the final minute of the period, and the Hawks cruised the rest of the way.
“When they get on the run, you need to stop it right away, because otherwise, it just keeps going,” Hayes said. “They had a 13-0 run, and it’s hard to come back from that.”
Hayes, who had just one field goal in the first two games, seemed to find his rhythm, with his best offensive performance of the season. He had a big second quarter, with nine points, then hit a 3-pointer in the third quarter as the Pistons were whittling down the lead, which had gotten to 15 points.
“We trust each other. I trust whoever to make a shot,” Hayes said. “If I make a pass to anybody, I trust him to make that shot, so if it’s not falling right now, it’s going to fall next game.”
Casey said before the game that he wasn’t worried about Hayes’ shooting, but more about his decision-making and others making the shots that he set up.
In the second and third quarters, Hayes looked more aggressive in searching for his shots, stopping for pull-up, midrange jumpers, and also finding open 3-point opportunities.
The Hawks (2-1) jumped out to a 28-18 lead in the first quarter, with only four points from Young, who exploded for 18 points in the second quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers.
The Pistons kept scratching, and after a 6-0 run, with a hook by a basket by Josh Jackson, a dunk by Oynyk and two free throws from Hayes, they were within 53-46 at the 2:26 mark.
“Hopefully, we can start knocking some shots down soon,” Josh Jackson said. “We’re getting the right open shots and we’re moving the ball.”
The Pistons were within 62-54 at halftime, after Bey got a basket at the buzzer. They closed the lead to six on Olynyk’s jumper to start the third quarter, but Kevin Huerter (14 points) answered with a 3-pointer.
The 14 turnovers were critical for the Pistons. Though it was a season-low total, they were at poor times, and the Hawks converted 22 points off those miscues. The Hawks had a 10-2 run midway through the third quarter.
“It was a lower number, but it was the type of turnovers — a live-ball going down and they were dunking it and the crowd was going crazy and I had to call a timeout to calm things down,” Casey said.
“We see our man, but the other team isn’t ghosts out there. We’ve got to make sure we see the defense, and make the pass, all fundamental things.”