Bulls Rush Late

Chicago’s bench sparks huge 4th-quarter push to down Pistons


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

WHITE HOT – Chicago broke up a tight game with an 11-2 run to open the fourth quarter and handed the Pistons a damaging 105-94 loss at The Palace on Wednesday. The Pistons fell behind by seven midway through the first quarter, went up by 12 early in the second and trailed by a point after three. But the Pistons scored on just one of their first six possessions and the Bulls put them down by 10 – their biggest lead of the night to that point – with eight minutes to play. The Bulls scored 20 points in the first six minutes of the fourth of what had been a slower-paced and more defensive game. Greg Monroe led the Pistons, who fell to 24-37 in their chase for a playoff berth, with 27 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Joakim Noah recorded a triple-double for the Bulls with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

BLUE COLLAR – Josh Smith had a tough-luck shooting night as the game wore on, making only 2 of 12 after halftime with a few point-blank misses exacerbating his frustration. But before the game got out of hand while Smith was grabbing a breather to start the fourth quarter, he had put the Pistons in position to win by doing a little of everything. He finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists, six blocked shots and two steals.

RED FLAG – The disparity in bench contributions was overwhelmingly in Chicago’s favor. D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson combined for 48 points. Augustin, who led the Bulls with 26 points, and Gibson helped the Bulls turn the game around after the Pistons took a 12-point lead early in the second quarter as they combined for 23 points in the quarter to put Chicago up by five at halftime. For the Pistons, Rodney Stuckey scored eight points and finished 4 of 9 after a slow start. But Will Bynum never got it going, finishing with four points and shooting an icy 1 of 11. Chicago’s bench outscored Detroit’s 50-12.

The Pistons were 10-10 when they walked out of the United Center with a win for the first time in 15 trips to Chicago nearly three months ago. It was their fourth straight win. Heading out into the frosty December air that night, it seemed like that would be the last of .500 the team Joe Dumars assembled over the off-season would see for a good long while.

The Bulls, still absorbing the shock of losing Derrick Rose to another devastating knee injury, fell to 8-10 that night. Not too much farther along, they would essentially give Luol Deng – an All-Star whom Tom Thibodeau leaned on for 40 minutes most nights – to the Cleveland Cavaliers to slash their luxury tax bill.

It sure seemed like two teams passing as ships in the night.

Fast forward to March, the Midwest still in the relentless clutches of a brutal winter. Chicago came to The Palace with a 25-17 record since the Pistons strangled the Bulls 92-75 that night. The Pistons, who lost their next three games after that rousing win in Chicago, have lost nearly two of every three games, a 14-26 record, since then.

“They have a very good system,” John Loyer said before Wednesday’s rematch. “They just have too good a talent. They play together, they guard you every single night, they find ways to score and their system is as good as anybody in the league. You knew it would take ’em a little time, but they figured it out.”

Loyer might as well have been foreshadowing the game, in which the Pistons and Bulls traded leads and momentum for all of 36 minutes. Chicago led by one going to the fourth quarter, at which point the Bulls, indeed, figured it out.

After scoring 71 points in those first 36 minutes, the Bulls scored 20 in the next six coming on their first 11 possessions of the quarter. The Pistons, meanwhile, scored on just one of their first six possessions, a stretch that ended with Chicago posting its first double-digits lead, 82-72, just 3:36 into the quarter.

“Their intensity picked up, our attention to detail and getting good shots went down,” Loyer said after the 105-94 game dropped the Pistons to 24-37 with 21 games to play. “They made a few shots at the end of the shot clock. I remember a (Mike Dunleavy left-handed) running hook, a couple of plays that I thought we hung our head a little bit on instead of going right back down and getting another bucket.”

"Our attention to detail and getting good shots went down."

- John Loyer on the game
Full game quotes
To be sure, the Pistons caught some bad breaks and allowed them to weigh on them inordinately. Ahead by seven in the second quarter, Josh Smith – who had another stat-stuffing night despite shooting just 6 of 21, including six blocked shots – headed out in transition after blocking a Taj Gibson shot. It looked as if Smith was raked across the arm by Dunleavy as he attempted a layup, but no call was made.

As Smith argued his case, Jimmy Butler dunked at the other end and John Goble assessed a technical foul on Smith. What looked like it was about to be a nine-point game with momentum swinging hard to the Pistons was suddenly a tie game 59 seconds later.

Fast forward to the third quarter, the Pistons ahead 64-62. They force a Kirk Hinrich triple that misses. Both Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond had a clear path to the rebound, which fell between them. They each disrupted the other from snagging it cleanly, Carlos Boozer having it fall to him for a layup to tie the game. That sparked another lightning-quick 7-0 run.

And yet, there they were, down a point headed to the fourth quarter.

“They’re a great defensive team,” said Andre Drummond, who two nights after posting a career-high 26 rebounds had to scramble to get to 15 points and seven boards against the Bulls and the triple-double of Joakim Noah. “They made it tough for us to get into our stuff. We were going back and forth and we were down by one and then they out-executed us in the fourth quarter and we came out with a loss.”

The Pistons outscored the Bulls 48-38 in the first and third quarters, but were swamped 67-46 in the second and fourth quarters. That goes to the imbalance in bench production. Gibson and D.J. Augustin were poisonous off Chicago’s bench, combining for 48 points – 23 of them in the second quarter, 20 in the fourth. Detroit’s bench, by contrast, provided 12 points, eight by Rodney Stuckey. Will Bynum’s four came on 1 of 11 shooting.

“Those guys do it a majority of the nights,” Loyer said of Gibson, who has averaged 22 points in three games against Detroit this season, and Augustin. “Taj Gibson’s done it all year and since they’ve gotten Augustin he’s been a valuable player for them. We knew they were two very key players and we didn’t do a good enough job on them.”

That’s been the story of the season, really, since that early December night in Chicago, when the Pistons left feeling like they wouldn’t see .500 again. Turns out, they haven’t. And with time running short, the need for a quick U-turn grows more urgent by the game.