Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 37 points as Chicago erased a 25-point deficit to win 105-102. Detroit's Jerami Grant scored a career-high 43 points. Coby White and Patrick Williams each hit a corner three in the game's final moments to help secure the win, despite both starters starting the second half on the bench. The Bulls improved to 12-15 with the comeback victory.
The good guys were home and in trouble.
The one-time Bad Boys Detroit Pistons had a 25-point lead, reduced to 18 at halftime. This was about to be a beating.
The Bulls needed a hero, perhaps even a super hero. It's said in sports no one player can beat another team.
For one quarter Wednesday in the United Center, Zach LaVine did, outscoring the Pistons 15-12 in the third quarter, equalling the Pistons' two steals and shutting down their star scorer Jerami Grant that all led to a 105-102 Bulls victory.
Faster than a speeding bullet when driving the basketball,
More powerful than a locomotive when getting to the hoop,
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and then slam dunk,
It's a bird!
No, it's a plane!
It's Zach LaVine, Superstar.
"In my eyes, he's a superstar player," said Thad Young in the wake of LaVine's ho hum 37 points carrying the Bulls. "Making sure his presence his felt when he's out there. He's asking for (defensive) assignments. That's what superstar players do. He's saying, ‘Give me the ball.' Zach has been amazing all season long.
LaVine slams how a powerful jam in the first quarter against the Pistons.
"The list goes on of how many things he does for this team," says the 14-year veteran who had another brilliant all around game. "He's definitely an All-Star. He's playing at a super high level. He's been amazing for our team in doing everything that we ask him. Not complaining, but going out and trying to lead. He's putting us on his back most nights and taking care of business."
The NBA Thursday will announce the starters for next month's planned All-Star game. LaVine likely won't be among the starters based on fan voting. And no offense to viewers, but those who know the game have to know by now how much LaVine not only means to the Bulls, but the NBA with his electric scoring and highlight package of plays. LaVine's play this season along with his durability in not missing games and value to his team that is basically matched by only LeBron James is the definition of stardom.
"Come out at halftime and give us a boost offensively and defensively," offered LaVine. "I feel like I did that. That's what players in my position have to do."
There was a lot to the Bulls victory that suddenly has them back in the middle of Eastern Conference talk. At 12-15, the Bulls are ninth, but a half game out of sixth and two games behind fourth place Indiana.
"If we play like we did in the third quarter on or even the whole Indiana game (Monday), having that mindset, we are going to be a really good team," said LaVine.
Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 37 points on 14-of-22 shooting in the comeback victory.
Which the Bulls weren't Wednesday in a horrible, no good, very bad first half that was the worst of times before the best of times. It was a tale of two halves, a half of foolishness before wisdom, of incredulity before belief. It was darkness and then light, despair and then hope. It was a far, far better thing Zach did, but also Thad and Wendell Carter Jr., the latter with 18 points, Patrick Williams with 12 fourth quarter points among his 15 and Bulls coach Billy Donovan with a second half shakeup that helped shake up the somnambulant Bulls youth corps.
"I was disappointed in our team, to be honest with you, in the first half," said Donovan. "I mean, really disappointed. I think if you look at the last two weeks of our team where we've played well one night, no consistency the next night. Play well the next night, no consistency the next night. It's hard to be good when you do that. You hope they go to the locker room, they regroup, they realize there's going to be some changes made. ‘When my number's called again, I've got to get myself ready and prepared,' and I think those guys did that. We needed some shooting out there with the way they were defending us."
So Donovan handled a mass benching perhaps as well as possible.
He didn't say much of anything to anyone. He just sat Coby White, Williams and Carter to open the third quarter after the Bulls trailed 61-43 at halftime.
"Coach called out who was starting the second half, and life moved on," said White. "It wasn't too much of a reaction from me. I didn't really play well in the first half, so you know, we're trying to win the game and we're down by 20, so something has to change. So he made a change, made an adjustment. And we won the game. So there's nothing else really to speak on it about."
Though White had something to say before it was over, as did Williams, which also said a lot about Donovan, who outmaneuvered Pistons coach Dwane Casey down the stretch to get what proved be the game winning shots.
And they were by the guys who were benched, White with a three on a Williams pass with 1:01 left for a 101-97 Bulls lead. And then on the next Bulls possession with 29 seconds left Williams with a three on a White extra pass for a 103-98 Bulls lead. The Bulls then survived a Delon Wright three point attempt at the buzzer for the tie.
Rookie Patrick Williams nailed a corner three with 29 seconds remaining to extend Chicago's lead to five.
"I'm sure those two guys are probably really disappointed they didn't get a chance to start the third quarter," said Donovan. "They see the way those other guys came out and the fact we kind of got back in the game. And now there's a little more responsibility on them to do the things that they know they have control over. I give them credit for keeping their head in the game. When they were called upon, they made those plays. The one thing I really trust in (White) is the fact when it's not going well for him, whether it's shooting or playmaking or defensively, he really battles and fights and believes in himself and has confidence and fights to try to do better. I think Patrick has some of those qualities, too."
It's hardly a monumental win considering the Pistons are 8-20 and in rebuild with Blake Griffin sitting out in the team's hopes for a trade after trading Derrick Rose to New York. But it was significant in the way this Bulls team continually turns big deficits into dramatic finishes and is working itself back into the conference playoff mix.
Hopefully also a chance to watch LaVine in Atlanta with the All-Stars next month with the reserves to be selected next week by coach vote. Considering all these coaches LaVine continues to make look bad, presumably the only way he wouldn't make it is out of their resentment.
This time it was the veteran 2018 coach of the year Casey, who gambled with extra traps and double teams on LaVine. Perhaps LaVine circa 2018 or 2019 might have fallen into the trap. But again like he has all season, LaVine found teammates for crucial plays, a so called hockey assist on the late White three and five assists, five rounds and three steals. Donovan said LaVine at halftime asked to defend Grant with Grant having scored 18 points and leading what seemed like a Pistons rout. Grant would have a strong close to the game and score a career high 43 points. But Donovan gambled that Grant's isolation play would take out his teammates and the Bulls could withstand his scoring. Plus, it was LaVine holding Grant to six third quarter points when the Bulls charged back into the game. Reports of LaVine's questionable defense are greatly exaggerated. The Pistons were one for 15 on threes in the second half against the Bulls straight up play.
Detroit's Jerami Grant scored a career-high 43 points to lead the Pistons.
"We had a cushion there of five, six (fourth quarter) points and I didn't want to start trapping (Grant) and having (Mason) Plumlee spray the ball all over the place and potentially give up threes and offensive rebounds," explained Donovan. "Zach fought like crazy. He did a really good job. He didn't get a lot of help. He was on his own."
Conversely, the Pistons were swarming to LaVine and he helped set up numerous scoring opportunities for teammates. And opened that pivotal third quarter with the veterans Young, Garrett Temple, Tomas Satiransky and Denzel Valentine that turned a late second quarter 25-point deficit to 65-61 Pistons within 10 minutes, a 27-6 overall run.
"Garrett started getting into the ball and taking Delon Wright out of the game," said Young. "Zach started getting into Jerami Grant, making his catches tougher. I started to get into Mason when he was up there dribbling the ball and trying to make cuts and passes to cutters and reads. Other guys got into guys like Wayne Ellington and the other shooters that they have."
Donovan isn't much for the motivational half-time speeches or the screaming and breaking things. He leaves that sort of thing to the veterans, which was also the plan last season with the signings of Young and Satoransky. They weren't given as much trust, and this season it's having the desired results.
"I had to kind of get on the guys a little bit," Young admitted. "One of the timeouts I was out of character a little bit, cussing and screaming, doing the things a vet has to do in order to get his guys going. Coach made a move at half. He played all the veterans and we kinda started a good little pace, a good little run and kinda got us back into some type of good offense, some type of good defense. It put us in a position to have the younger guys come in and play.
"What frustrated me early on was we played Indy in a tough game," Young noted. "We battled all night. Indy's a physical team. We matched their physicality. We beat them on the boards and we take care of business and we get through that game and win. But we come to this game and it's completely different. Aside from all the schemes and the coverages and everything else it's all about here (tapping chest). You have to take the challenge one-on-one. Their guys were just going wherever they wanted to go, doing whatever they wanted to do. We weren't imposing our will and impacting the ball and stopping them from doing what they were trying to do. The second half it completely changed."
Thad Young, playing center, matchups up with Detroit's Mason Plumlee
It was an inglorious start for the Bulls in this unusual circumstance in which the Bulls game in Charlotte was postponed for virus reasons and the Pistons game in Dallas was rained out. With the weather emergency in Texas, the Pistons probably couldn't have gotten there, anyway. So the NBA sent them to Chicago to avoid too many makeup games.
Getting called for traveling would have been an upgrade for the Bulls to start as that would have suggested movement. LaVine had nine first quarter points, but Grant twisted his way to 13 and the Pistons were off to a 35-27 lead after one quarter and 59-34 late in the second quarter. With LaVine, Temple and Satoransky leading a 9-2 second quarter close, Donovan decided to make the change.
It took four minutes for the Pistons to score in the third quarter against a suddenly active Bulls bunch, 9-2 to end the second and 11-2 to start the third. All of a sudden it was 63-54 with almost 20 minutes left in the game. Young finished with nine points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and two steals, and now has steals in 16 consecutive games for the league's current longest streak. The Bulls forced six third quarter turnovers with two LaVine steals and LaVine continued to drive through the Pistons with multiple dunks.
He came out of the third quarter with a nasty scratch across his neck and a double technical after an exchange with Josh Jackson, mostly fouling him from behind in trying to guard LaVine. The officials tend not to be very kind to the usually mild mannered reporter type in LaVine, who also had a technical foul in Indiana.
"If they feel like I need a technical they have to do their job," said LaVine. "I feel like everything comes with winning, individual accolades, respect from the refs, respect from other players, from teams. You start winning you get that. I'm a real likable guy. I don't go out there and talk a lot of mess to guys. I'm also not intimidated or scared of anybody. Just friendly rivalry. Guy talks to you, you want to talk back. At least me personally, I don't back down from anybody. The only person I'm scared of is God and my dad. I guess we got the win. Maybe I should play like that a little bit more. I play angry; I just don't talk a lot."
The Bulls hit Detroit with an 8-0 start to the fourth quarter and it was 78-73 Bulls.
Detroit got within one at 82-81and LaVine stepped back for a three. They got within two at 91-89 and LaVine made another three. The Pistons got a three and LaVine answered with a drive splitting a double team and weaving by Plumlee for a dunk and 96-92 Bulls lead with 1:50 left.
Then it was the kids' turns.
"Coach is going to challenge you," said LaVine. "I think they responded and it shows a lot of trust he has in them to play them down the stretch. I think he just wanted to send a message and get them going a little bit. Coby and Pat made some huge shots."
And LaVine let his game do most of his talking. It spoke loudly once again.
Up, up and away.