Bulls Pull Away

19-0 run in fourth blows it open for Chicago to snap 2-game Pistons streak


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

WHITE HOT – Taj Gibson hit his first seven shots and he and Luol Deng scored 15 each in a surprisingly high-scoring first half, but Chicago clamped down on defense in the third quarter to take an eight-point lead and wound up winning 99-79. It was a five-point game midway through the fourth quarter when the Bulls went on a 19-0 run, holding the Pistons scoreless on 11 straight possessions. Deng finished with 27 and Gibson added 23 for Chicago and they combined to make 22 of 30 shots. Rodney Stuckey came off the bench to lead the Pistons in scoring for a third straight game with 25 points.

BLUE COLLAR – They’ll likely have many more head-to-head battles, but score the first confrontation of rookie shooting guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tony Snell a decisive win for Snell. The Chicago rookie, drafted 12 spots after the Pistons took Caldwell-Pope at No. 8, scored 13 points and gave the Bulls pop from the 3-point line by sinking 3 of 5. Caldwell-Pope didn’t score, missing four shots in 19 minutes, but didn’t have a big impact in other areas, either, though he did come up with three second-half steals.

RED FLAG – It wasn’t a great sign for the Pistons that they shot 58 percent in the first half and kept two players who’ve typically hurt them, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, to a combined three points and two rebounds, yet led by just points. Chicago, which struggles nearly as badly as the Pistons from the 3-point line – the Bulls shoot 32 percent, 24th in the league – hit 5 of 10 from the arc in the first half.

From a seat near mid-court along press row, the change in the Chicago Bulls’ defensive temperament from the first half was apparent within the first three minutes of the third quarter. It looked pretty much the same way to Rodney Stuckey a few feet down the sideline from the perspective of the Detroit bench.

“They just came out and hit us first and never looked back,” Stuckey said after the Bulls turned a first-half romp into a second-half mud bath, holding the Pistons to 26 points in the final two quarters after spotting them 29 in the first quarter alone. “We didn’t start the third quarter out well. We didn’t match their energy in the second half, offensively or defensively, and that was pretty much the ballgame.”

Pretty much. The Bulls were without Derrick Rose, but the Bulls are accustomed by now to playing without the NBA’s 2011-12 MVP. Out for the year with torn knee cartilage, Rose will have played but 49 of 230 regular-season games over the past three seasons when this one ends. And they were still good enough to get to the second round of last spring’s playoffs, where they made life uncomfortable for Miami despite missing not only Rose but Luol Deng and other key players, as well.

That’s because, Rose or no Rose, the Bulls hang their hat on defense, as coached and demanded by taskmaster Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau could have chewed glass in the first half, even though his Bulls were down by only two at halftime, after the Pistons shot 58.5 percent and scored 53 points.

"We couldn’t score the ball and a lot of it had to do with their defense. Their defensive pressure picked up in the third and fourth quarter."

- Maurice Cheeks on the first and second halves
Full game quotes
They shot 27.8 percent in the second half. After falling behind by eight points in the third quarter, Stuckey – who led them in scoring for the third straight game with 25 off the bench – helped stabilize the offense by attacking the basket late in the third and early in the fourth quarters. But when the Bulls finally swarmed Stuckey to make others beat them, the Pistons were sunk. They went scoreless on 11 straight possessions – including missing all four free throws attempted in that span – covering 7:25 as Chicago went on a 19-0 run to turn a five-point game into a rout.

“I think they obviously were a lot better in the second half than they were in the first half,” Maurice Cheeks said. “We couldn’t score the ball and a lot of it had to do with their defense. Their defensive pressure picked up in the third and fourth quarters.”

How smothering was Chicago’s second-half defense? Other than Stuckey, who scored 10 points, nobody had more than two except Gigi Datome, who celebrated his 26th birthday with two late baskets. Datome’s two jump shots in the final 74 seconds were Detroit’s only points after Jonas Jerebko’s jumper at 8:39 made it 80-75. Pistons starters scored four points on 2 of 18 shooting in the second half.

“They are a good defensive team,” said Greg Monroe, who scored the game’s first basket but finished with five points and three rebounds. “I don’t know if they made any big adjustments (after halftime). Maybe we kind of changed what we were doing offensively. I don’t know. … They play hard. They’re physical. They always play hard. You know what you’re going to get out of those guys every night.”

Point taken. The Bulls know exactly who they are. The Pistons would like to be a dominant rebounding team that protects the rim and uses their defensive prowess to create easy scoring chances, but they’re a work in progress on that count 15 games into a significant off-season makeover that saw a new coach and eight new players added. Right now, the Bulls have a defensive gear the Pistons simply can’t locate.

“They know each and every night, if they’re not scoring the ball, they’re going to focus on defense and get stops and create turnovers,” Stuckey said. “They’re a great defensive team. They’re always one of the top defensive teams in the league. We’ve just got to take a note from that and try to do what they do.”

While the Pistons couldn’t match the Bulls’ defensive tenacity and efficiency in the second half, what made it really matter was that they were able to virtually match baskets in the first half when the Pistons were scoring with almost shocking ease. The Bulls – scraping near the bottom of the NBA in scoring (27th) and field-goal percentage (27th) – got 40 first-half points from Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and rookie Tony Snell, including 15 each from the veterans. Deng finished with 27 (plus six boards and five assists) on 11 of 17 shooting in 41 minutes and Gibson with 23 (plus eight boards) on 11 of 13. Gibson made his first seven shots and his only first-half miss was a halftime heave from mid-court.

Great execution or great shot-making?

“Both,” Monroe said. “They’ve always been a very good executing team, one of those teams that moves the ball very quickly. Guys get good shots and they make shots. It’s the NBA. People are always going to make tough shots.”

Well, not always. The Pistons after halftime, for example. After seeing it go through the net 24 times in the first half, they made a mere 10 baskets in the final 24 minutes.

“Once that third quarter came, they just kicked our butts,” Stuckey said. “We’ve got to take a page out of what they do and try to get better.”