The Detroit Pistons were the hottest team in basketball. They had won seven straight games – including road wins against Cleveland, San Antonio and Dallas – and had risen from anonymity to respectability.
But then they hosted the Hawks on Friday. Atlanta took a commanding 64-45 lead into halftime and hung on to win, 106-103.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Hawks forward Al Horford said on Ferrall on the Bench. “We were in control for most of it and it got away from us there at the end, but luckily for us, we were able to pull the game out.”
Horford finished with a team-high 19 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, as all five Hawks finished in double figures, including Pail Millsap (17 points), Jeff Teague (14), DeMarre Carroll (13) and Kyle Korver (11).
Atlanta shot 40-of-82 (48.8 percent) from the field, including 10-of-23 (43.5 percent) from three-point range. The Hawks had 27 assists, including a game-high 11 from Teague.
“It’s all about ball movement for us,” Horford said. “We’re (passing up) good shots for great shots. That’s what it’s all about. We’re having fun playing out there.”
Especially on defense. The Hawks limited the Pistons to 38-of-96 shooting (39.6 percent) from the field, including a woeful 13-of-43 (30.2 percent) from three-point range. Detroit’s leading scorer, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, finished with 20 points, but he needed 23 shots to get there.
“Our whole thing is to defend and play tough and not give up cheap fouls and things like that,” Horford said. “That’s an emphasis the coach always put on us. We’ve been doing a good job as a team with that.”
Atlanta also got great production from its bench, with Thabo Sefolosha, Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and Mike Scott combined for 32 points. Sefolosha had 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting, while Scott added four assists.
“Our bench was a big key tonight,” Horford said. “I felt like Thabo’s energy really sparked us, changed the game, and that’s one of the luxuries we have as a team. We have depth on our team, and we’re able to hold teams down like that.”
The Hawks (28-8), who have won seven straight games, are atop the Eastern Conference and lead Washington (25-11), Toronto (24-11) and Chicago (25-12) by at least three games. They also rank in the top eight in basketball in scoring offense (102.5 points per game), scoring defense (97.4 points) and assists (25.2).
Horford, 28, is averaging 14.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. He is in eighth season in Atlanta – and he’s never had this much fun.
“No question about it,” Horford said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s the most fun since I’ve been here. We’re just looking to get better. It’s definitely fun to be winning at this pace.”
After a home game against Washington on Sunday, The Hawks play four road games in five nights, beginning with Philadelphia on Jan. 13.