ATLANTA — Isiah Thomas told Vinnie Johnson that the Detroit Pistons would defeat the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night, and the two guards helped make sure Thomas' prediction came true.
Johnson scored 15 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Pistons overcame a 13-point second-half deficit for a 104-96 victory over Atlanta and a 4-1 clincing of their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series. Detroit will play the winner of the Milwaukee-Boston series, which the Celtics lead, 3-2, in the Eastern Conference finals.
"I told Vinnie in the fourth quarter when we were down 11 points that we were going to win," said Thomas, who scored 12 of his 19 points in the final period as the Pistons outscored the Hawks, 39-19.
"I said to him, 'Hey, we can win it. Don't put your head down. You got to come through for us. No one else can do it. You've got to get hot,' " Thomas said. "He just said, 'OK.' "
"Isiah is one of my biggest cheerleaders," Johnson said, "and one of my biggest fans. Sometimes, I get down on myself when I miss my shots, but he's always saying they'll fall and giving me confidence."
Johnson was at a loss, however, to explain his shooting streak.
"There's no reason," Johnson said. "That's what a streak shooter is all about, I guess."
Atlanta's Randy Wittman, who finished with 21 points, said a couple of turnovers in the fourth quarter did in the Hawks.
"We were up by 12 points and then had two straight turnovers. Instead of the lead being 16, they hit two baskets and it's 8, and it put a little fire into their game," he said.
"Hopefully, we can use this down the road to learn from," Wittman said.
The Hawks, who had a 74-61 lead late in the third period on a three-point shot by Dominique Wilkins, still led, 93-88, with 4:19 left.
Then Johnson and Isiah Thomas, who had been held to seven points until the final period, went to work. The two helped the Pistons outscore the Hawks, 16-3. Johnson scored seven points during the spree and Thomas five.
Detroit trailed, 93-90, with 3:15 left when Wilkins tried to catch an errant pass and landed three rows up in the stands.
Referee Jack Madden, who said he did not notice Wilkins was off the court, put the ball in play, and Thomas, who finished with 19 points, made a 10-foot jump shot as the Pistons took advantage of a 5-on-4 situation.
Hawk Coach Mike Fratello argued so vehemently that he got a technical foul. Thomas made the free throw to tie the score.
Mahorn then added two free throws, and the Pistons' run was on.
Wilkins scored 13 of his 26 points in the third period to give Atlanta what appeared to be a comfortable 77-65 lead entering the final period.
Wittman added 21 points for the Hawks, John Battle had 16 and Kevin Willis 11.
Joe Dumars led Detroit with 21, Adrian Dantley had 17 and Mahorn 10.
The Hawks led, 51-42, at halftime. Substitute Scott Hastings made a layup with 8:23 left in the second quarter that started Atlanta on a 17-4 run.
The Pistons led, 24-22, after the first quarter as Dumars scored 8 of their first 10 points.