ATLANTA — Josh Smith knows the best way to mend his relationship with Hawks coach Mike Woodson.
“I’m going to put the onus on myself,” Smith said. “I haven’t been going to the boards like I should be in previous games and I wanted to try to get back to the old Josh.”
Smith scored 19 points and Al Horford added 18 — and they each grabbed 12 rebounds — to help the Atlanta Hawks beat Detroit 87-83 and end the Pistons’ four-game winning streak Saturday night.
With a 11/2-game lead over Miami for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Hawks relied on their defense to erase an 11-point deficit. Atlanta held the Pistons without a field goal for a 7:59 span of the third and fourth quarters.
A similar effort was missing as the Hawks lost two straight and three of four, but the team hit an emotional bottom Friday in a seven-point loss at Charlotte when Woodson benched Smith for the second half.
The coach and his 23-year-old forward allegedly were shouting at each other and had to be separated during a halftime altercation in the Atlanta locker room. Both insisted they would hold no grudges as the Hawks aim for the second straight trip to the playoffs.
After watching Smith pull down four rebounds in the fourth quarter, Woodson could only believe the events of the last two nights might somehow help Atlanta in the weeks ahead.
“He was huge, and that’s how he’s got to play,” Woodson said after his team improved to 21-7 at home. “He’s got to play at the level every night the rest of the way through this. And he’s capable of doing it. He’s got to have support from everybody around him and everybody’s just got to play as a team the rest of the way.”
Detroit’s Richard Hamilton tied it at 78 with a 3-pointer from the right corner with 4:23 remaining. But the Pistons never regained the lead after Flip Murray’s 14-foot jumper put Atlanta ahead for the first time with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
“That’s what I live for,” Murray said. “That’s the best thing in the game, close games going back and forth, neck and neck. I like stepping up and making those shots. When that part of the game comes, that’s when I make my play.”
The Hawks, who outscored the Pistons 18-4 on fast breaks, snapped a two-game losing streak overall and swept the three-game series.
Allen Iverson, the Pistons’ leading scorer, did not make the trip because of a back injury that’s kept him out of the last five games.
“It took us a little too long to get into our offensive sets tonight,” Detroit guard Rodney Stuckey said after scoring 19 points. “We were throwing up shots at the last second. We played hard, but we just didn’t execute when we needed to. I think we’ll still be fine if we see these guys in the playoffs.”
Hamilton led the Pistons with 20 points. Antonio McDyess finished with 12 rebounds as Detroit dropped to 31-30 for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference.
“Our turnovers were crucial in this game,” Pistons coach Michael Curry said. “In the stretch where it was tied at 78, they ended up making two quick baskets off our turnovers. They crashed the boards in the third quarter. They’re very athletic in the frontcourt.”
Mike Bibby, who ended the scoring with a pair of free throws in the final seconds, had 17 points for Atlanta, which took its biggest lead when Joe Johnson hit a 3 from the right corner to make it 7:03 left in the game.
But the most telling story line as the Hawks celebrated the victory to the delight was Woodson and Smith locking in a quick hug and smiling at each other.
Horford won consecutive national titles at Florida before Atlanta drafted him No. 3 overall two years ago.
“I think every team hits rock bottom,” Horford said. “I think that’s what happened to us. I’ve been on teams like that at Florida where it wasn’t pretty. Before we won our first championship, that’s what happened. We had a pretty ugly scenario, similar to this one.”