For the first third of the season, the Detroit Pistons kept finding new ways to lose games in the fourth quarter.
They almost did it again on Friday night.
Detroit blew a 19-point lead, but Atlanta had a potential tying shot changed by the officials in the final seconds and Andre Drummond got a piece of Lou Williams' shot as time expired, preserving an 85-84 victory for the Pistons.
Detroit held a double-digit lead for most of its fourth consecutive victory, but Atlanta put together a 16-0 run to close to 83-82 with 3:13 to play.
"I told our guys that if we kept hanging around, we would give ourselves a chance at the end," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "We didn't play well for three quarters, but we got it rolling in the fourth. We just came up a little short."
The Pistons scored two points in the final seven minutes — Rodney Stuckey's layup to end Atlanta's run — but the Hawks couldn't complete the comeback.
Atlanta thought it had tied the game on a 3-pointer by Al Horford — his first in 22 months — but a replay review showed his right toe was touching the line. That left the Pistons up 85-84, but Tayshaun Prince threw away the inbounds pass to give the Hawks another chance.
Atlanta wanted to get the ball back to Horford, but he didn't have a shot. He flipped the ball to Williams in the corner, but Drummond jumped at him for the clutch defensive play.
"I was just trying to get something toward the rim," Williams said. "I knew the clock was running down, and I just wanted to get something up that would count if it went in."
The 6-foot-11 Drummond figured his size was bound to intimidate Williams, even if he couldn't get to the ball.
"Not too many people have a 6-11, 275-pound person running at them," he said.
Pistons coach Lawrence Frank was happy with the victory, but worried that his team was slipping back into the mode that saw it blow numerous big leads in a 7-21 start.
"Obviously, we're going to have to be sharper and better down the stretch," Frank said. "We did a good job in the paint and a good job on the boards, but there is a lot to clean up after this one."
The Pistons have won six of seven overall, with the only loss coming in double overtime at Atlanta. The second unit has powered the surge, outscoring the starters in several games. The reserves outscored Atlanta's backups 41-14 on Friday, led by Austin Daye's season-high 20.
"We're playing really well as a unit right now," Daye said. "I think the starters are feeding off of us, and we're feeding off of them."
Greg Monroe added 18 points and nine rebounds for Detroit. Jason Maxiell had 10 points and 10 boards.
"We pretty much owed them one from the last time at their place," Maxiell said. "We tried to get low and bang — get a little more physical."
Josh Smith had 20 points for Atlanta, while Horford had 18 points and 15 rebounds.
Daye dominated the first half, hitting his first seven shots on the way to 16 points and powering Detroit to a 51-36 lead.
"My teammates did a great job of finding me early, and then Coach started running a few plays for me," said Daye, who only moved back into the rotation in mid-December. "It just feels great to be out there."
Smith had 14 at the break for the Hawks, but Atlanta only shot 36 percent in the half and missed 12 of its 14 3-point attempts. Smith then picked up his fourth foul in the opening seconds of the third quarter and aggravated a hip pointer, decreasing his effectiveness at both ends of the floor.
"Josh said he could still go, but when we got down 17 late in the third, I got him out of there," Drew said. "After that, when the guys were making a run, I didn't want to change things. I did put Josh out there for the last possession, though. He wanted to be out there."
The Hawks got their offense going after halftime, hitting four 3-pointers in the first six minutes of the third, but still struggled to get any stops. Atlanta closed to 66-55, but Maxiell turned Detroit's 12th offensive rebound into a three-point play and a 14-point advantage.
Detroit struggled down the stretch and Atlanta within single digits with five minutes to play. Korver and Williams then hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it a one-point game and set up the dramatic finish.
NOTES: The Pistons, desperate to build on one of the smallest attendances in the NBA, held a Star Wars promotion with Billy Dee Williams as the special guest. Other games have featured halftime concerts by Gladys Knight, MC Hammer and Sheila E. ... The Hawks didn't get a field goal from their backups until Zaza Pachulia's basket with 10 minutes to play. Detroit's reserves had 32 points by that point. ... Drummond picked up a fourth-quarter technical for pushing away Pachulia while they battled for a rebound.