Fizzled Finish

Pistons squander superb 1st half, lose to Bulls

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Derrick Rose is inspiring "M-V-P" chants in the House that Jordan Built, and while that might be a tad premature, there was no questioning the third-year guard's impact on Chicago's 95-82 win over the Pistons. Consistently getting inside the paint to wreak havoc in Chicago's half-court offense and a menace in transition, Rose hit the Pistons with 29 points, seven assists and five rebounds. He got plenty of help from Carlos Boozer, who made 12 of 17 shots and finished with 27 points and 11 boards, doing damage against Charlie Villanueva, Greg Monroe and Chris Wilcox.

BLUE COLLAR – When Ben Wallace rolled his left ankle on the opening tip and went to the bench after a few trips up and down the floor, John Kuester waved Greg Monroe into the game. Except for a brief minute on the bench late in the second quarter, he finished the half, logging 21 first-half minutes and a whopping 43 for the game, easily his career high. But Monroe is proving tough to sit. He registered his third straight double-double with 10 points and 13 boards and came up with two more steals to go with a pair of assists.

RED FLAG – The Pistons simply aren't going to win many games when the two best scorers on their roster, Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon, combine for seven points and make 2 of 15 shots. The playbook calls for heavy doses of plays run for them, rightfully so, but neither one is carrying himself with the confidence that their resumes would imply these days. Gordon started off aggressively - maybe overly so, taking some quick shots and forcing passes that weren't there for two early turnovers. He made just one jump shot all night, getting his first points on a twisting reverse layup, and missed all three of his 3-point shots in the building he called home for the first five years of his career.

Austin Daye, Greg Monroe and the Pistons picked up in the first half at Chicago where they left off in their second-half win over Philadelphia on Saturday night. They led by 12 and had hung 55 points on a team coached by one of the NBA's renowned defensive gurus, Tom Thibodeau.

They couldn't get to half of 55 in the second half, scoring 27 and seeing their 12-point lead turn into a 13-point loss - a storyline eerily close to the season's third game, when they led by 20 early in the third quarter before getting steamrolled down the stretch by the Bulls.

"It was a tale of two halves," John Kuester said. "We did a nice job offensively in the first half. We also forced missed shots and got the rebounds. In the third quarter, they went on a spurt and we just couldn't control it. If we could have generated anything offensively, we would have been in this. Their team capitalized on our mistakes."

"We knew we didn't do a good job on defense," Bulls free-agent prize Carlos Boozer said after the game. "We knew we had to step up our defense. We did it right away (after halftime) and we got back in the game. We held them to 82 points."

The game capped a day of uneasy speculation on the looming three-way trade that New Jersey and Denver need the Pistons to help facilitate, with Rip Hamilton's name front and center. Hamilton, supposedly bound for New Jersey along with Carmelo Anthony and his old Pistons running mate Chauncey Billups from Denver, missed all five of his shots in 22 minutes, scoring only on a pair of free throws.

Compounding the problem was the continuation of Ben Gordon's shooting woes. Gordon, who replaced Hamilton as the starter at shooting guard in December, shot 2 of 10 and finished with five points.

Monroe's emergence as a solid piece of the frontcourt and Daye's sublime all-around scoring skills would be happy footnotes to a Pistons hot streak if they were getting anything close to the combined contributions they expected out of Gordon and Hamilton, the two most accomplished scorers on their roster. It's tough to win when either one of them consistently struggles to reach double figures, let alone both of them. Making 2 of 15 shots combined is unfathomable.

That put the onus to score on others. For the first half, at least, that proved no problem. Leading the way was Daye, who came off the bench to score 14 points in the second quarter, coming off of his 15-point night in the win over Philly when his 3-pointer in the final five seconds forced overtime.

Daye's 14 points came on only six shots - he made all of them, two from the arc - as the Pistons executed with precision in the half court and even beat the Bulls downcourt for some easy transition baskets.

Monroe made it three straight double-doubles, though it required Kuester riding him for a surprising 43 minutes, necessitated in part by a twisted left ankle Ben Wallace suffered on the game's opening tip. He labored up and down the court for two minutes and waved off Monroe initially, but came to the bench and later had the ankle stiffen. Monroe finished with 10 points and 11 boards and is averaging 13.3 points and 11.7 rebounds over his last three games.

But for all the scoring options up and down their roster, the Pistons played a miserable offensive second half, shooting under 30 percent (11 of 40) with seven turnovers and getting baskets from just five players. Rodney Stuckey had four baskets and Chris Wilcox three - the rest of the team combined for four - but too often the Pistons found themselves launching contested jump shots deep in the shot clock while four teammates found themselves flat-footed and in no position to challenge for offensive rebounds.

"We got away from the things we did in the first half - moving the ball, rotating defensively," said Tracy McGrady, who scored his nine points in the second quarter. "We kind of had Derrick (Rose) contained, but we got away from that. We let him get going. Boozer got going. We just couldn't slow them down."

Tayshaun Prince was 2 of 11 after halftime and he was 0 for 5 in the opening minutes of the third quarter when the Pistons - continuing a season-long trend of sputtering starts to second halves - saw Chicago go on an immediate 11-2 run to wipe out much of their 12-point halftime lead. The Pistons scored on just one of their first eight possessions. And Daye followed his 6-for-6 first half with an 0-for-4 second half, the story of the night.

"I missed some shots I would normally make starting the third," Prince said. "We had great looks in the third quarter. We just missed some shots. Once we missed some shots, it affects us on the defensive end. That was the case tonight."