The Bulls Saturday were shooting 51.9 percent overall and making 18 of 35 threes, doubling the Pistons in free throw attempts and fast break points. The Bulls beat the Pistons 119-107.
They said they were a playoff team. By Monday, the Bulls could be. The season won't be quite over, the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics likely haven't taken notice, and a .500 record still remains a longterm goal. But with Saturday's 119-107 victory over the Detroit Pistons, the Bulls are a Monday win in Orlando away from being part of the Eastern Conference's Elite Eight.
So maybe it's still just a Special Seven. But with a winning record in December that includes four one possession losses, pinch the Bulls. They just might finally be alive.
Bulls 119, Pistons 107
"We're a team with some tough losses, but we haven't quit, really," said Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls with 33 points, 13 in the fourth quarter. "We're in every game. I feel like we don't show what our record is. We're a team that we practice hard. We understand how good we can be and how we've been giving up some of these leads to where we can be in a different position. It's tough for us to make up for it. But we're a tough team, we're resilient.
"We've obviously given up some late leads, but I think we're playing better when we're losing those leads and we're staying in games and we're competitive," LaVine added. "It's a learning process and we're getting better at it."
Zach LaVine scores 33 points against the Pistons
We've heard that one before as the Bulls moved to just 12-19. But this time there may just be something to it with the Bulls Saturday shooting 51.9 percent overall and making 18 of 35 threes, doubling the Pistons in free throw attempts and fast break points and a massive and lately surprising 46-29 rebounding advantage.
Coby White back to shooting guard was five of seven on threes for 19 points. Tomas Satoransky getting the Bulls off fast with 10 first quarter points finished with 16. Lauri Markkanen had 15 and Wendell Carter Jr. 12 points and 12 rebounds and an impressive second half defensive effort to thwart Andre Drummond. Drummond had 19 points, but just five in the second half. Plus, Kris Dunn continued his renaissance as an emotional defensive leader with nine points and four steals.
"Chemistry is big in this league," noted Dunn. "We have a lot of new guys on this team and it takes time to build chemistry. It might be earlier for other teams. For us, I think we are building that chemistry and starting to get used to everybody and what is our role on the team. We're starting to get the chemistry down a little more. Sato, he played his a-- off, Lauri played his a-- off, Wendell played his a-- off, Zach played his a-- off. Coby finally got his groove back. I think chemistry is starting to come together."
Coby White drops five threes against the Pistons
Sometimes there's an explosion when you mix the wrong chemicals. It seemed for a while the Bulls were playing with bleach and ammonia. But if you, say, mix something like calcium chloride with water it heats up.
Just like those hot Bulls? Hey, a 6-5 month is scorching for where this team has been.
The Pistons were without Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, both nursing sore knees. While the Bulls continue to flash the sort of stability that's been missing for years. Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison remain out with injuries. But the Bulls are 6-5 this month, all with Dunn back in the starting lineup, the same starting lineup every game. Dunn actually returned a game before in a loss to Portland. But the Bulls finally since then have gone with a shorter rotation and more consistency, especially with the starters being stretched out, playing longer without those odd in-and-out breaks and finishing games.
The result has been, at least the last two games with the comeback in Washington and pulling away from a tie Saturday with nine minutes left, a team that isn't panicking, falling back into isolation ball and instead playing with poise and purpose.
"We've been in so many situations where we got comfortable at one point in time," said Dunn. "We've been in so many close games you would think we would be comfortable. We're starting to figure out who needs the ball in the fourth quarter and let them make the plays; then collectively just go out there and be us. Get stops and everything else takes care of itself."
The Bulls did that in a game they'd mostly controlled after halftime. Drummond was dominating inside in the first half as the Pistons led 28-25 after the first quarter and 59-53 at halftime. Then the Bulls were the aggressors this time with LaVine, Markkanen and Satoransky in one third quarter stretch driving almost full court for layup scores. The Bulls would lead 93-83 late until what seemed like an old nemesis with some careless play and a pair of Pistons threes in the last 10 seconds of the quarter. Detroit then tied the game at 96 with nine minutes remaining. Here we go again? Nah. It was the Bulls who applied the breaks to the opponent's offense and released LaVine to finish.
LaVine hasn't always been disciplined. But he's been at his efficient best this month, averaging 26 points, five rebounds and four assists, shooting 42 percent on threes and finishing. LaVine Saturday was nine of 15 with five of seven threes and 10 of 14 on free throws.
And it was explained perhaps best by Dunn, who suddenly seems like a first team defensive player and first team language facilitator.
"It's almost like setting the table," Dunn said when asked about LaVine's close.
That stretch included a three to break the tie, another for a 106-99 lead and a good nighter, the nonchalant pullup to make it 111-101 with with 2:04 left.
"You just can't make food and think you are going to just eat it out of the pot," Dunn explained. "You got to put the plates down, put the forks down, put the glasses down, That's what he's doing. He's not scoring, scoring, scoring, scoring. That's easier to guard. You get your team involved, you still stay aggressive and when the fourth quarter comes you just be you."
That's the best use of images in Michigan since they started measuring snow fall by piling up beer cans.
I know, I know, coming from Chicago and our two seasons of winter and road constriction we shouldn't be making jokes about anyone.
But suddenly this Bulls season that was making us cry may just have a happier ending.
"You stay positive," said Dunn. "You've got to stick to what got us here, working hard, staying positive and doing what we do. Don't let the outside noise get in. We understand what the standings are; we're not (blind) to it. We see it and that's our goal. Get to that eighth place. We've got to go in Monday against Orlando and do what we do."