LaVine and Porter Jr. combine for 48 points to lead the Bulls over the Pistons. Derrick Rose had a nice homecoming of his own, scoring 23 points and 7 assists.
It was a beautiful Friday night in the United Center. The Bulls were the best team in the game and Derrick Rose was the best player on the floor.
Sure, Rose now plays for the Detroit Pistons, which perhaps doesn't make it all perfect. But the home fans finally felt the relief of a Bulls victory, 112-106 led by 26 points from Zach LaVine and 22 points from Otto Porter Jr.. And they experienced with a standing ovation and chants of "MVP" the exhilaration of watching the precocious Li'l Pooh from Englewood with 23 points and seven assists perform his own version of dancing with the stars by waltzing around and quickstepping through Bulls defenders.
"Derrick was dynamic all night," marveled Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "He's got his burst; he's really difficult to guard. He's as tough a cover in the league as there is right now."
But this time even as Andre Drummond soared for 25 points and 24 rebounds, the Bulls didn't shrink. They did lose a 16-point third quarter lead and fell behind 100-99 with 3:46 left in the game. Then they beat back Detroit's relentless piston action with a pair of LaVine threes and the pressuring defense and rebounding that had been missing during the inglorious start. Both teams now are 2-4. The Bulls play at Indiana Sunday.
"I had to make a play," said LaVine, who was the primary point guard down the stretch and had just made a pair of turnovers. "The shot clock was down, I think we were down one. I'm not scared to take any of those shots.
"I just wanted to make up for some mistakes," LaVine said. "I was throwing the ball around. It was a big time. We wanted to get a win on our home court. We got off to a disappointing start. It's not like any of us wanted to be 1-4. Our record should be 4-1 to start. We're not there, so we have to start from here. We've got a good team; we're just trying to figure it out. Cleveland, I didn't shoot the ball a lot through three quarters and then I tried to get going in the fourth and I don't think that's the way to go. I know the team needs my scoring and I have to continue to make the right plays out there
"Somebody has to step up to the plate," said LaVine, "and I think I'm that dude."
Zach scores 26 points against the Pistons
Perhaps that sounds presumptuous, but it's that attitude—and production—the Bulls need from LaVine, especially with Lauri Markkanen in a funk. The third year forward had 14 points and for the second consecutive game sat out the close. Thaddeus Young with two pressure clutch threes played the entire fourth quarter with six of his eight points in the fourth.
Markkanen appeared to suffer some kind of injury to his left side early in the fourth quarter and left briefly for the locker room. But Boylen confirmed Markkanen was available to play late.
"I felt good with Thad in there," said Boylen.
Markkanen afterward was his usual phlegmatic self.
"You always want to play, but you guys know I'm a team first guy. So whatever lineup is working I'm cool with that and I'm going to do whatever the team needs," Markkanen said. "I'm going to be all right."
The Bulls certainly hope so since they've essentially invested in the development and anticipated excellence of LaVine and Markkanen, the latter who finished with 14 points and seven of his nine field goals attempts for threes.
Though this was less a time for development than determination in the wake of the disappointing start and dismal home loss in the opener. Lots of Ds there, which was looking like the team's early report card. It was time for A change.
"We've been battling, but we haven't finished," said Boylen, who gratefully moved from violent to poetic imagery. "What I told the team is sometimes the clouds come out, ‘It's this, It's that.' We've played good enough offensive basketball to win; we haven't played good enough defensive basketball to win. We got those clouds out of the way and I thought we were better tonight defensively."
Stuck with a season that's been gray and lonely, the Bulls finally stuck out their chin to grin and say…not again, not this time!
"It's not like any of us have found our rhythm or shot yet," said LaVine. "We're still working toward it, but at the end of the day we got the win and that's what matters."
That it came against the Pistons of Rose provided some extra drama and entertainment. And it seemed like the sour grapes of wrath have been stomped on and put away. There's no more whine about Derrick Rose; more like an old favorite rose'.
One time league MVP Rose has been terrific in his third uniform since being traded by the Bulls in 2016, a departure driven by considerable ambivalence and bewilderment about how everyone should feel. But time heals wounds and wounds heels. And when Rose now a sixth man checked in late in the first quarter, Chicago fans rose to give him an ovation. The Bulls had burst out to an 18-8 start in cleaning up their cautious turns to open the season. Rose was brilliant from his beginning, crossovers, blowbys, reverse layups and scoops with 15 points in 13 minutes by halftime. Fans frequently broke into MVP chants, a once familiar accompaniment in the United Center.
With former teammate Joakim Noah in attendance, Rose was grateful and nostalgic.
"It put me back in the state of mind of reminiscing," said Rose, who did enough greetings during the evening to win the Iowa caucus. "I remember those days. I had Joakim in the building. It's kind of crazy. I'm on the court and he's up there with his kid. It's like a reunion when I come back here. Playing here all these years was special. I didn't cherish the moments that I was supposed to, but you live and you learn and just feeling that energy tonight, it was something to hold on to for sure. I felt the love out there."
But the biggest hug, at least from the Bulls, was for the alchemy that turned Porter's languor into liveliness.
The versatile 6-8 forward had been an enigma to start the season with indifferent play. The issue wasn't so much lack of production, but the fusing envisioned by management to merge the young talents with stable veterans. Porter seemed almost disinterested. He began to show some spirit toward the close in Cleveland Wednesday. As the calendar turned to November Friday, it was as if Porter's season began.
Before no one knew if Otto was coming or going. He may represent a palindrome, but he's no zero.
"Eventually I knew it was going to come," Porter said.
"Somebody has to step up to the plate, and I think I'm that dude."
LaVine kick started the team with 11 points in the first quarter and Wendell Carter Jr. with 16 points and 11 rebounds continued his relentless and rugged play for a 30-23 first quarter lead and 57-52 at the half. Porter then took control with 10 points and three assists in the third quarter. Porter handled the ball with dexterity and daring off the pick and roll, driving for scores and getting dunks for cutters. Though the Bulls depend on LaVine and Markkanen for offense, they have been counting on the veteran contributions to equalize and steady the team. It finally came Friday with Porter's all around play and Young's late clutch shooting.
"Otto, I thought, had that look in his eye that he wasn't going to let us lose," said Boylen. "He was aggressive, he was confident and he has a size advantage at the three with ball skills. We met in Cleveland and we had a good talk. He was frustrated, we were frustrated. Sometimes you just have to bear down and play your position as hard as you can. One thing I love about Otto the most is he's a guy in the huddle talking, "This is the stop we've got to get, we've got to get the loose balls.' He's a coach out there."
That he was an excellent player this night was more significant.
Still, there was almost another of those "oh no" moments when the Pistons without Blake Griffin and shooting a season low on threes finally began to make some shots. For their part, the Bulls shot their best of the season, 40 percent on threes and stayed close on the boards even with Drummond almost outrebounding the entire staring five. But as Boylen asked, the guards rebounded with LaVine grabbing five and Kris Dunn four. And the Bulls didn't wither.
Young made huge threes with the Bulls ahead 91-87 and then tied at 96 with 6:14 left.
"When I'm open or see an opportunity to get one up, I'll shoot it," said Young, who is attempting a career most threes this season. "Guys are going under screens or playing back in the paint, I have to shoot them. I think I'm making them at a 40 percent clip now (11-27). I'll continue to shoot with confidence. If I'm not open, I'm moving it."
Still, the Pistons took their first lead since the first minute of the game on a Rose drive and Tony Snell reverse with 3:46 left. Losing to Rose, but to Tony Snell? Despite the Bulls being in the foul bonus the last seven minutes, the Bulls mostly opted for the threes. But they went in this time, making five of nine in the fourth.
They weren't losing this one.
LaVine made those two step backs and the Bulls forced the big misses this time with Carter and LaVine making enough free throws in the last minutes to provide for an ideal experience.
"It got a little scary," agreed LaVine, "but we pulled it out."
GAME RECAP: Bulls 112, Pistons 106