Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey (3) and Atlanta Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll (5) fight for a loose ball in the first quarter on Tuesday at Philips Arena. (USA TODAY Sports: Brett Davis)
ATLANTA — Playoff tickets went on sale this week in Atlanta, but the postseason is anything but a certainty for the Hawks.
Detroit guard Rodney Stuckey scored 29 points and center Andre Drummond dominated inside with 19 points and 17 rebounds, lifting the Pistons to a 102-95 win over the Hawks on Tuesday at Philips Arena.
Atlanta (34-43) now leads the idle New York Knicks by 1 1/2 games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Detroit (29-49) was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend.
Forward Greg Monroe finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds for Detroit, which won consecutive games for the first time since early February.
The Hawks were coming off perhaps their most impressive performance in months, a blowout win over the Pacers in Indiana on Sunday, and they needed Tuesday’s game. They didn’t play like it, especially early.
“I think there was a lack of focus to start the game,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Coming off a win, coming off a los, at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. We have to have more focus and be mentally tougher to start a game and throughout the game.”
The makeup from a Jan. 29 game that was postponed due to a winter storm, Tuesday’s game was sluggish and sloppy, featuring lackadaisical turnovers and defense from both sides.
Detroit got off to a hot start, controlled the backboards and led for the vast majority of the game. Stuckey hit four consecutive free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the win and end the Pistons’ 10-game losing streak in Atlanta.
“I thought right from the opening tip we had the right intent,” Pistons interim coach John Loyer said. “We got a lot of offensive rebounds. We were quicker to the ball. We got a lot of extra possessions, and we started out with really good momentum. What (tonight) looked like to me was a group not tyring to hold onto the lead, but a group that was trying to win the game.”
Atlanta took its first lead midway through the third quarter but quickly coughed it up and trailed 81-78 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Hawks shot 9-for-35 (25.7 percent) from the 3-point arc and turned the ball over 16 times, 13 coming on Pistons steals.
“I felt like the ball was just going in and out for me tonight,” said Hawks guard Kyle Korver, who finished 4-for-12 from 3-point range for his 12 points. “It’s tough to have one of those nights.”
Drummond, a rookie out of Connecticut, was a force on the inside. He even stepped to the foul line to make two consecutive free throws after Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer elected to intentionally foul him.
Detroit point guard Peyton Siva drained a 3-pointer that put the Pistons up by seven with 4:24 to play. Siva was one of only three Detroit reserves to play, but that unit still outscored the Hawks’ bench, 24-23.
“Peyton played with some poise,” Loyer said. “I told him he held the ball a little too much up top waiting for things to happen, but he’s got a big heart and he has a lot of guts. He stepped up and made a couple of shots at the buzzer. The kid’s not scared of anything.”
Atlanta had multiple chances to tie the game but couldn’t convert. The Hawks hit only one field goal in the final four minutes. Their only other points came at the foul line, and they weren’t enough.
Forward Paul Millsap led the Hawks with 24 points.