Before you can foul Derrick Rose, you have to catch him. The Pistons couldn’t, so Rose – the NBA’s reigning MVP for a reason – hit a 3-pointer to force overtime and stomp on the Pistons’ collective heart, which they conveniently left on The Palace court in a game of high passion and drama.
But for a missed free throw here and an elusive rebound there and the runaway Rose, the Pistons were on the precipice of a win that perhaps more than any other would have validated everything Lawrence Frank has worked to institute over a season buffeted by challenge and adversity. Instead, they were left to digest a bitter 100-94 overtime loss.
“We did everything we needed to do to win the game other than win the game,” said Frank, disappointed but not discouraged the way he is when he doesn’t see the Pistons as locked in as they were against the team with the NBA’s best record. “Our guys showed great grit and fight. We made a ton of winning plays. Did we make mistakes? Yeah, so did they. But we fought our tails off. We came in wanting and expecting to win. We made a ton of winning plays and did everything to win the game, but that’s the finishing act.”
Rodney Stuckey was mostly brilliant, scoring 32 points and getting to the foul line 18 times, but it was two misses in the final seconds – he split a pair with 16 seconds left and another with 14 to go – that left the door open for Rose’s heroics. The Pistons’ master plan in such situations, ahead by three, is to foul with less than nine seconds remaining. Rose launched his dagger with eight seconds to go. The Pistons simply couldn’t get to him in time.
“Joakim (Noah) set a hell of a screen,” said Ben Gordon, guarding Rose at the time and the victim of Noah’s crushing screen. “The right play for us to make was to try to run him off the three, but he already had a head of steam and got into his shot. It was too late by then. He got into his shot quicker than we were able to react.”
Rose finished with 24 points and nine assists, but also seven turnovers. Noah hurt the Pistons at least as badly with 20 points and 17 rebounds, 13 of them offensive.
“Some he probably got the benefit of some nudges,” Frank said. “But Noah is an elite offensive rebounder. Rose puts so much pressure on your defense on penetration, so now your (centers) have to help. Sometimes we get knocked out of the way and sometimes it’s a foul and other times it’s not.”
The Bulls, scrapping for the No. 1 seed both in the East and overall and with a 46-14 record, looked like they were going to run away with the game in both the first and third quarters. They built 11- and 14-point cushions, but both times the Pistons came back to lead, using a 24-12 run in the first half and a 21-5 run in the second.
Charlie Villanueva scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half to spark the first rally. Frank decided to go with Villanueva over Jonas Jerebko as backup to Jason Maxiell because the Pistons have had so many second- and fourth-quarter droughts against the Bulls this season. Frank said he plans more experimentation in the six games remaining, including looks at Jerebko at small forward and rookie Vernon Macklin up front.
Villanueva was involved in a critical fourth-quarter play, fouling Rose hard with 4:31 left and the Pistons ahead by three. Villanueva was called for a flagrant-one, and then a technical, which resulted in the Bulls shooting five free throws, making four, on a single possession to take the lead and stem momentum.
“I was definitely going for the ball,” Villanueva said. “I had no intentions of trying to hit him hard and split him open on his nose. I just tried to go for the ball and they gave me a flagrant foul. (Rose) said a few things, then I get called for a tech. It is what it is – a heat-of-the-moment type of thing.”
“They were saying it wasn’t a basketball play,” Frank said. “There were a lot of things that went on over the course of that game you could make a sound argument could have gone different, but we put ourselves in position to win that game.”
Frank often talks about the incongruity of winning the wrong way or losing the right way and he’ll chalk this indigestible loss up as one of the latter.
“We’re very, very disappointed we lost this game,” he said, “but proud of our guys. Other than win the game, we did several winning things.”