That switch was never flipped more suddenly or emphatically than it was after the most brilliant 20 minutes of basketball the Pistons have put together this season. With four minutes left before halftime, they’d already put up 53 points – and led by 17 – against the NBA’s No. 1 ranked scoring defense, Chicago’s.
Over the next nine minutes, the Bulls outscored them 28-11 to wipe all of that lead away. The Pistons had one turnover in those first 20 minutes when a Corey Maggette pass flew into the seats.
That started a streak of seven straight possessions without a point, during which time the Pistons turned it over three times and missed five shots. When it ended, the Bulls had chopped 12 points off of their deficit. They passed the Pistons late in the third quarter and kept on charging on a night Joakim Noah played like a certifiable Hall of Famer.
“That second quarter was an abomination,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau growled after the game. “We let guys get to their strengths, we gave them everything. (The run) was critical. It kept us within striking distance.”
And nobody struck quite like Noah, who put together a game that only three others have in the past 25 years and only one – Kevin Garnett – managed in the last 10 by going for 30 points, 23 rebounds and six assists. Ten of Noah’s boards were on the offensive end, leading to 23 Chicago second-chance points and accounting for a big chunk of its alarming 58 points in the paint.
“I don’t think my game has changed that much,” Noah said. “I’m just more comfortable knowing where I can be effective, how to get my hooks off, and I feel a lot more comfortable shooting the ball, too. I’m just more comfortable on the court and I work hard on my game.”
“That’s something coming into the game we knew we had to control,” said Greg Monroe, who was limited to 13 points and five rebounds and sat for all of the fourth quarter until coming on for Andre Drummond with 2:14 to play. “He just played harder than us. They’ve always been a good defensive team. I don’t think we had trouble scoring, but he gave them a lot of extra possessions and he got himself going and go this teammates going.”
Lawrence Frank shook his head at the fact that Noah had a double-double in each half with 12 points and 10 rebounds in the first half followed by an even better second half with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
“Energy. It’s disappointing,” Frank said. “Flat-out effort. The unfortunate thing is their ability to convert those offensive rebounds into points. (Carlos) Boozer (24 points, six boards) was very effective in the paint on postups. Noah gets 30 and 23 with no plays run for him.”
The Pistons spotted the Bulls an early 7-2 lead, but then Brandon Knight shot them into the lead by hitting 4 of 5 shots, including 2 of 2 from the 3-point arc, in scoring 12 first-quarter points. Rodney Stuckey came on four minutes into the game when Kyle Singler picked up two quick fouls, and he was even better, scoring 15 points and dishing out five first-half assists by making all five of his shots.
The Pistons scored on 10 of their first 11 possessions of the second quarter in opening up a double-digit lead. But once Maggette’s pass sailed out of bounds, karma changed.
“We only had one turnover up to that point,” Frank said, reliving the stretch by ticking off Chicago’s scoring plays – a basket cut by Noah, a drive by Luol Deng, Noah with a drive and spinning finish, Boozer taking a feed over the top of the defense. “The game obviously started to shift there.”
The Pistons regained their equilibrium after the Bulls took a four-point lead into the fourth quarter, coming back to tie it at 82 with nine minutes left. But they never could regain the lead in losing to the division-leading Bulls.
“We did a lot of good things to go up 17,” Frank said, “and I would say not so many good things (after that).”