Smith, Mutombo lead way as Hawks throttle Pistons
Posted: Sunday May 09, 1999 12:43 AM
ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Hawks haven't had a lot of success in the postseason. Still, they have a way of coming up with memorable defensive performances.
The Hawks held Detroit scoreless for 7 1/2 minutes in the third quarter, pulling away from the Pistons for a 90-70 victory Saturday night and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-5, opening-round series.
"We're at our best when we're playing that kind of defense," said Mutombo, hoping to lead the Hawks past the second round for the first time since the franchise moved to Atlanta in 1968. "If we can keep this up, good things are going to happen."
Keeping it up is the key for the Hawks, who came through with a similar performance last year against Charlotte in the opening round. Atlanta tied the then-playoff record for fewest points allowed in a game during a 96-64 victory, only to lose the series with a 91-82 loss in the next game.
"We learned a lot from what we did last year," said Tyrone Corbin, who made a key contribution off the bench with 13 points. "We can't afford to relax at any time. When we step out on the court again, it's going to be a whole new ballgame. Detroit is going to come back strong. I'm sure they're a little bit embarrassed about tonight."
Game 2 is Monday night at the Georgia Dome before the series shifts to Detroit for the third game Wednesday.
The Hawks were the NBA's stingiest defensive team during the regular season, allowing just 83.4 points per game, and they played even better against the Pistons.
"They have an underrated defense," Bison Dele said, "and I say that knowing they led the league in defense."
Still, Pistons coach Alvin Gentry couldn't hide his disgust after his team's dismal second half.
"If we're going to score 27 points in a half, we're not going to win," he said. "We stood around and didn't make cuts. We didn't play hard. We have to have better ball movement. You've got to have more than 13 assists."
Detroit, which took two of three from the Hawks during the regular season, fought back from a 15-point deficit in the first half to pull to 51-48 on Lindsey Hunter's two free throws with 10:09 remaining in the third.
The Pistons didn't score again until Grant Hill came up with a steal and hit a 16-foot jumper with 2:40 left. It was Detroit's first field goal of the period, as their first five points came from the foul line.
During the Pistons' scoreless streak, the Hawks reeled off 13 consecutive points to blow it open. Atlanta led 73-54 at the end of the third, limiting Detroit to just 11 points in the period for the fewest ever scored by a Hawks opponent in a playoff game. The previous team record was 12.
The Hawks came up with seven steals and blocked three shots in the period, while Detroit shot 3-of-13 from the field.
"We jumped on them," Mutombo said. "We didn't give them easy baskets. We rotated well. We helped each other. That was the best defense we've put together in a long time."
Hill scored 26 points to lead the Pistons, but only eight came in the second half. No other Detroit player scored in double figures.
"We got a good, old-fashioned butt kicking," Hill said. "The good thing is we have Game 2. I'm confident we'll be better. We're better than we were today."
Detroit has not won a first game in a playoff series since 1991, when the Pistons defeated Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals. That also was the last time the Pistons won a playoff series.
"I thought we would come out with a lot of enthusiasm, this being the playoffs," said Jerry Stackhouse, who was held to seven points. "But we didn't do that."
The series gave both Grant Long and Christian Laettner a chance to meet their former teams. Atlanta's Long got the best of the matchup with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Laettner had nine points, four rebounds and five fouls.
"I tried to remove myself from that emotional part," said Long, who played sparingly during two seasons in Detroit. "It's not me against Detroit."
Notes: Detroit set a team record for fewest points in a playoff game, breaking the mark of 75 set twice previously. ... The Pistons won 93-77 on their only visit to Atlanta during the regular season. ... Alan Henderson, still suffering from a left eye abrasion, played four minutes with special goggles that helped him cope with double vision. But he admitted that his eye is still bothering him, and he's not sure how much it will improve by Monday. ... The Palace of Auburn Hills is now available if a fourth game is needed Friday night. A sold-out Dave Matthews Band concert was shifted to another day.
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