AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) - The Detroit Pistons had one of the biggest meltdowns in franchise history Saturday night.
On Tuesday, they weren't going to let it happen again.
In their first game since blowing a 25-point lead in an embarrassing loss to Toronto, the Pistons held off a third-quarter rally before pulling away for a 103-80 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Detroit led 49-37 at halftime before the Hawks scored the first 11 points of the third quarter. Detroit scored the next five points, though, and Atlanta was never able to catch up.
``That was huge,' Pistons coach John Kuester said. ``This game is fragile - don't ever forget that. During a run like that, everyone is second-guessing themselves, but we did a great job of executing at that point and kept them from getting ahead of us.'
Richard Hamilton scored 24 points and Charlie Villanueva added 23 points and 11 rebounds for Detroit (8-18).
``We know we are a much better team than our record shows,' Villanueva said. ``We were desperate to get a win tonight after what we did against Toronto.
Josh Smith led the Hawks with 26 points, while Al Horford added 17 points and 12 rebounds.
``Give Detroit credit - they made shots,' Hawks coach Larry Drew said. ``We turned the ball over, we let them run out on us, and we just didn't get the job done.'
Detroit dominated the first half, leading from the first possession on its way to the 12-point halftime lead. Hamilton had 20 points and the Pistons held Atlanta to 34 percent shooting.
The Pistons have become renowned for third-quarter collapses, so they saw their recovery from the Hawks' early surge as a positive.
``We didn't panic when they made their run,' Villanueva said. ``There have been too many times this year when we've been in that situation and let it get away from us.'
Detroit led 64-61 going into the fourth. The Pistons went back ahead by double figures on Tracy McGrady's 3-pointer that made it 74-63 with 8:10 left. McGrady, who came into the game with two 3-pointers all season, had four in the fourth quarter.
``I just haven't been shooting 3s this year - that's not normally a big part of my game,' he said. ``Tonight, though, they were giving me open looks, and once I hit the first couple, the basket just looked huge.'
The Hawks came apart down the stretch, allowing Detroit to pull away for the easy win.
``We hung in there, but it seemed like nothing was going our way and then it got out of hand quickly,' Atlanta point guard Mike Bibby said. ``They hit three or four 3s in a row, and then it was just a rampage that we couldn't stop.'
Notes: Kuester juggled his rotation yet again, with Jason Maxiell going from the starting lineup to out of the rotation. Instead, Detroit started post players Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe together for the first time. ``The rotation is going to always change because of fouls or injuries, but we liked the way this group played,' Kuester said. ... While Horford was putting up his double-double for the Hawks, his brother Jon was an hour away, putting up nine points and nine rebounds for Michigan in its 64-44 win over North Carolina Central. ... The end of the game was delayed for a few minutes after the Palace crew released streamers with 0.2 seconds still left on the clock.
The Associated Press News Service
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