Bulls Down Pistons

Chicago makes plays down the stretch to beat Pistons for 18th straight time

TEAM COLORS

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

White Hot – Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva combined for 36 points off the bench as the Pistons led for more than three quarters of Sunday’s 95-94 loss at Chicago, the 18th straight Pistons loss to the Bulls. Villanueva’s attempt at a tying 3-pointer with six seconds left missed and the Bulls clinched the win on a Daequan Cook free throw.Luol Deng led Chicago with 28 points and had a huge offensive rebound and put-back with a minute to play to put the Bulls ahead by three points. Deng got to the foul line 17 times as the Pistons had a hard time matching up with him, especially after Kyle Singler fouled out midway through the fourth quarter. Stuckey, who hit a 3-pointer with two-tenths of a second left to pull the Pistons within one, scored 16 of his 25 in the first half to lead the Pistons.

BLUE COLLAR – Andre Drummond grabbed 14 rebounds and was a dominant presence in his second game back after missing 22 straight with a back injury. Lawrence Frank played Drummond in six-minute stretches in his first game back, but slightly upped his stints to seven minutes to start each half. Drummond played 22 minutes and scored eight points while also contributing two assists and a blocked shot.

RED FLAG – The Pistons shot 60 percent in the first half, held the Bulls to 42 percent and outrebounded them 24-16. So why were the Pistons leading by just four points? Free throws and turnovers. The Pistons put the Bulls at the line too many times and Chicago scored 13 points on 18 tries. The Pistons also committed nine first-half turnovers that Chicago converted into nine points while the Bulls only turned it over four times. Chicago wound up with a healthy 40-22 edge in free throws attempted, outscoring the Pistons by 12 points from the line. The Pistons committed 17 turnovers that the Bulls converted into 24 points.

CHICAGO – The Pistons avoided the third-quarter meltdown that led to embarrassing home losses to Minnesota and Toronto last week. They got 29 points off their bench in the first half alone. They dominated the glass, a testament to the difference Andre Drummond makes.

But the Chicago Bulls might as well be a vampire to them, defeated only by having a stake driven cleanly through the heart.

The streak now stands at 18 and stretches to the George W. Bush administration. In both of their previous meetings this season, the Pistons saw Chicago overcome 17-point deficits to win. In this one, the Pistons led by 13 early and for all of the first three-plus quarters.

“I don’t even know that our guys know the last time we beat them was Dec. 23, 2008,” Lawrence Frank said after the 95-94 win in a game the Pistons nearly tied with six seconds to play on a Charlie Villanueva triple. “I know that, but I don’t even think they know it. The bottom line is we’ve given ourselves three chances to win and that’s such a fine line. They’re a 40-win team. You think about it: We hold them to under 40 percent, we shoot 50 percent from the field, 43 percent from three, you think you’re going to win the game.”

They didn’t for a few obvious reasons. Chicago made more free throws (27 in 40 tries) than the Pistons attempted (22) and the Pistons coughed it up 17 times that the Bulls turned into 24 points. But they also won because Luol Deng – on a night the Bulls were without Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Rip Hamilton and Marco Belinelli – was an impossible matchup.

The Pistons’ best answer for Deng was Kyle Singler, who pretty much battled Deng to a draw in the first half. But Singler played the second half in foul trouble and was gone with six minutes to play. Deng had 16 of his game-high 28 after halftime and he scored 11 at the line on 17 attempts. Deng might have scored the game’s two biggest baskets off of back-breaking offensive rebounds.

The first came with 10 minutes left after the Pistons had weathered Chicago’s first big push. They had taken their lead back to six points from two and had the Bulls in a tough spot, taking the ball out of bounds with only two seconds left on the shot clock. Deng’s rushed attempt beat the clock but missed, but he darted to the front of the rim to score on the follow and got fouled in the process.

“That was huge,” Frank said. “They had some timely rebounds and if you think about it, in our games in two years, think about the timely rebounds they’ve had in the fourth quarter against us, all in close games. That’s just the fine line between winning and losing. We’ve been in these situations with these guys before. It’s just a hat on a hat, a body on a body, or just one extra effort can be the difference between a win and a loss.”

Deng’s second big offensive board came with 1:05 to play and the Pistons down one. He cleaned up a Nate Robinson missed layup and scored, which set the Pistons up for Villanueva’s attempted tying basket. The Pistons intended to go for a quick two, Frank said.

“The design was to get a quick two,” said Villanueva, who scored 14 off the bench to augment the 25 Rodney Stuckey scored. The two combined for 26 first-half points. “They played some good defense, took our options away. We improvised as the clock was running low. We went to the next thing and I had a good look. It felt really good. Jose (Calderon) found me. It felt real good. I missed. I feel like I’ll take my chances on that shot.”

Villanueva, who found himself having to guard Deng when the Bulls went small down the stretch, played 24 minutes as the Pistons went without Jason Maxiell, who missed the game with an eye injury. Another injury cropped up on the Pistons and affected the possession that resulted in Villanueva’s missed triple. Calderon had an issue with tendons in his right arm, Frank said, that prevented him from trying an open shot before he moved the ball to Villanueva on the right wing.

The Bulls going small had one other affect on the Pistons, forcing Frank to choose between Drummond and Greg Monroe rather than playing both on a night they both were effective. Monroe finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, his 34th double-double, and Drummond – in his second game after missing 22 with a back injury – grabbed 14 rebounds and scored eight points in nearly 23 minutes.

“It’s only going to get better with time,” Monroe said. “The more we play, the more comfortable we’ll get with each other. He’s been playing well. He’s been a beast on the boards, protecting the rim, getting us a lot of second shots. The more we play together, the better we’ll be together.”

“You see the difference Andre makes,” Frank said. “It’s almost like I’ve got to beg Arnie (Kander, strength coach and overseer of Drummond’s rehabilitation). But we’re not going to sacrifice Dre’s long-term growth for the short term and every game he’ll be able to play a little bit more.”

The loss to the Bulls – especially because it was the Bulls – left a clear tinge of disappointment in the locker room, but it wasn’t quite the hollow feeling the Pistons experienced with consecutive lopsided home-court losses to struggling teams in Minnesota and Toronto.

“We know we have a long ways to go,” Frank said, “but we can be a whole lot more encouraged about what we put out there tonight and no one has to hang their head. Disappointed as a competitor we lost the game, but at least knowing that, hey, I emptied the tank, I gave what I had to give. It wasn’t perfect, but my heart, my mind, was in the right place.”

“Some bad bounces, some turnovers – I had one turnover that was pretty bad timing,” Monroe said. “When we needed it, we were a half a second late. We did a great job of playing with good effort and energy the whole game, but when it counted we were just a step late. We definitely got better as far as not having a big lapse that cost us the game. We had a lot of good things, even though we lost.”