Running with the Bulls

TEAM COLORS

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

– The Pistons wrapped up their roughest stretch of the schedule – 10 games in 10 cities across four time zones in 19 days – with a typically spirited effort. They wound up losing 83-71 to Chicago, a league-best 42-11 despite the absence of Derrick Rose for 19 games, but the Pistons are 14-13 since their 4-20 start and gaining a league-wide reputation as a team that will make you earn your wins. Lack of depth hurt them – the Pistons played without Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon, both nursing leg injuries – when Lawrence Frank had to go to his bench in the second and fourth quarters. Yet the Pistons were within four points with under five minutes to go after a Brandon Knight jumper made it 75-71 but failed to score on their last seven possessions.

BLUE COLLAR – Greg Monroe had to battle the league’s deepest frontcourt – and one Lawrence Frank likely would nominate as its best defensive four-man unit – but still managed to do damage against Chicago. Monroe recorded his 25th double-double of the season, putting up 14 points to go with 10 rebounds and five assists, doing it despite Chicago not feeling threatened by 3-point shooting as the Pistons hit just 3 of 11 from the arc.

RED FLAG – Without Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon, the Pistons struggled to score when Lawrence Frank had to go to his bench. After a proficient offensive first quarter in which they shot 58 percent and scored 25 points, the Pistons – who for a long stretch had to go with a unit that featured Austin Daye, Will Bynum, Jonas Jerebko, Damien Wilkins and Ben Wallace – shot 20 percent and scored just 10 points to fall nine points back at halftime. They were four points down to start the fourth quarter when two Chicago reserves – Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson – scored six points on the first two possessions to build the lead back to 10 points. For the game, Pistons reserves scored nine points and shot 3 of 21.

CHICAGO – Lawrence Frank has proven himself a remarkably resourceful coach in a season the NBA couldn’t have drawn up any better to test his ingenuity. But he’s not an alchemist. With no Rodney Stuckey and no Ben Gordon, his scoring options off the bench are scant. And that, as much as anything the team with the NBA’s best record could throw at them Friday night, tagged the Pistons with their 83-71 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

The Pistons played a sublime first quarter offensively, sprinting to an 18-10 lead and finishing the quarter with 25 points on 58 percent shooting. But with no Gordon to anchor the second unit’s scoring, a group consisting of Ben Wallace, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, Will Bynum and Damien Wilkins couldn’t generate much of anything offensively to start a second quarter in which the Pistons shot 20 percent and scored 10 points.

That wasn’t the only reason they lost, of course. They were within four points after a Brandon Knight jump shot with just under five minutes left, then – with their starting unit intact – were outscored 8-0 as they went empty on their final seven possessions. The Bulls grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone, outscoring the Pistons 10-0 on second chances.

But playing without two of their most prolific scorers and forcing a second unit with little familiarity to shoulder big minutes against one of the few teams with a legitimate shot at the NBA title took its toll.

“Other people have to step up,” Jerebko said. “I didn’t do a good job, so put some on me. We just didn’t come through today. BG is our top scorer off the bench and Stuckey is our top scorer, so other people have to step up. We’ve got to do a better job. We competed today, but I think they had 10 offensive boards in the fourth quarter – that can’t happen. The ball bounced their way in the fourth.”

How tough a night was it for Frank’s bench? They scored nine points and shot 3 of 21. With the Pistons down four to start the fourth quarter, Chicago pushed its lead to 10 inside of a minute on two possessions – a 3-point basket by Kyle Korver and a conventional three-point play from Taj Gibson, both off of the Bulls’ bench.

“There’s no excuse – it is what it is,” Frank said. “Luol Deng played almost the whole game (45:28). They played without Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton. That’s the nature of the league.”

Frank winced as he recalled the key stretch after Knight’s 20-footer with 4:49 left. C.J. Watson missed but wound up grabbing his own rebound and making two free throws when he got fouled. After Knight, who led the Pistons with 16 points, missed a 3-pointer, the Bulls got another offensive board from Joakim Noah, who fed Carlos Boozer for an easy score.

“The initial defense was great,” Frank said. “You have it where it’s a two-possession game – a 50-50 ball, offensive rebound, all of a sudden four goes to eight and we couldn’t make shots at the other end.”

“Just came down to a matter of a lot of offensive rebounds for them,” Knight said. “We didn’t finish off possessions. They were able to score down the stretch and we had a tough time scoring. It happens. You’ve just got to try to fight through it and find a way around that, try to limit those as much as you can. I thought we fought pretty hard. Just a couple of bad bounces we weren’t able to get and let them finish off their possessions.”

The Pistons don’t get much time to wallow, coming home to host Charlotte. But at least they’ll be home, a place they haven’t seen much. Since leaving for Utah on March 10, the Pistons have been in Michigan for less than 48 hours.

“It feels like we’ve been on the road for a month,” Jerebko said. “Came home for a day and didn’t even unpack. Can’t blame it on that. We just have to keep working hard and get through it.”