NEW ORLEANS (AP)—By the time the toughest test in their five-game winning streak was winding down, the Detroit Pistons were making it look easy.
“When you play four games in five nights in four different cities, we were a little sluggish, but we gave a gutty performance and a really good defensive effort,” Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. “It shows a little bit of our character, that we hung in there and came back. We kept our poise, didn’t panic and just kept chipping away.”
As has often been the case during Detroit’s streak, the Pistons received balanced scoring, help from the bench and they rebounded well, leaving New Orleans unable to slow them down by swarming defenders to a particular player.
Unlike in the other games, though, Detroit was down by double-digits early and had to come back. The Pistons did so by shooting 52 percent in the second quarter to take the lead for good late in the opening half.
“Our defense really was the key,” Hamilton said. “We kind of got back to what we’re known for—defending, helping each other out—and we knew we were going to make plays down the stretch.”
Tyson Chandler had 17 points and 22 rebounds for New Orleans, which had won three of its previous four games. Peja Stojakovic scored 19 points, hitting two 3-pointers to give him 51 for the season, the second-best mark in the NBA behind Orlando’s Rashard Lewis (53). Chris Paul added 14 points.
“We played decent defense tonight because they have been averaging over 100 points a game,” said Hornets forward David West, whose nine points left him short of double figures for the first time all season. “They were patient and they were just waiting for us—whether they had a mismatch on the post or somewhere else—to make a mistake. They were capitalizing and making a lot of shots.”
The Hornets, who fell behind by nine early in the fourth quarter, could only get as close as 76-69 on Jackson’s free throw with 6:02 to go.
Hamilton responded with a jumper at the other end, starting a 7-2 run, and Detroit ended up outscoring New Orleans 15-7 the rest of the way.
“We’ve been here before, that’s the biggest thing,” Hamilton said. “We know we weren’t playing as well as we usually play. We just knew if we just stuck with our offense, good things happen.”
Detroit had won its previous four games by an average of 23.8 points, but it was the Hornets who built a large early lead. Chandler’s alley-oop jam from Jannero Pargo capped a 13-0 run, and after Wallace made a pair of free throws, Stojakovic hit his second 3-pointer of the game to give New Orleans a 26-11 lead late in the opening quarter.
But after shooting only 30 percent during the first quarter, the Pistons regained the momentum with the help of reserves Jarvis Hayes and Lindsey Hunter, who combined for the first five points of the period, and Jason Maxiell, who had a pair of well-timed one-handed dunks as he soared to the basket to grab teammates’ missed shots. The second sparked a 6-0 run that pulled Detroit to 38-37 late in the period.
Soon after, Billups caught Paul looking the other way and hit an uncontested 3-pointer to tie the game at 40. Billups then hit a pair of free throws to give the Pistons a 44-42 lead at halftime.
“If the starters get down, the bench is coming in there to pick us up and close that gap, or if we’re up, they’re coming in to sustain the lead,” Wallace said. “That’s what’s making it look easy for us, though it’s really not.”
Hornets G Morris Peterson left the game early in the second half with a strained lower back muscle. … Attendance was announced at 10,312. A sellout is 17,956. Back in Detroit, the Pistons have sold out their last 192 home games. … The Hornets are 4-5 at home.