The Bulls Monday drove into the Motor City with some acceleration having won five of seven games. But the Bulls’ engine stalled after taking a 14-point first quarter lead and they ran out of gas and had their tires blown out in the second half and lost to the Detroit Pistons 109-95.
It was a damaging loss for the Bulls’ playoff hopes as they fell into a last spot tie in the East with the Pistons at 31-32. The streaking Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks are just a game and a half behind both for the last playoff spots. The Bulls are in Orlando Wednesday.
The Bulls had an impressive start, especially with defensive effort. But the reserves stumbled in the second quarter and then the defense fell apart after halftime while the offense went into neutral with walk-it-up, isolation play. The Pistons dominated the inside and outrebounded the Bulls 48-37.
The Bulls were led by Jimmy Butler with 27 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Robin Lopez had 18 points and Cameron Payne off the bench 14 points with four of nine threes.
Dwyane Wade was out with a thigh injury, making it the 10th game he’s missed this season for rest, injury and illness. Rajon Rondo also was out from the sprained ankle he sustained Saturday. Michael Carter-Williams was back after missing the last five games. Paul Zipser started for Wade with Butler moving back to shooting guard. Butler after attempting just seven shots in Saturday’s loss to the Clippers said he was determined to be more aggressive for the Pistons. Butler was more engaged with five shots and six points in the first quarter. The Bulls were the aggressors all around to open the game, scoring nine straight to take a 13-4 lead with a Jerian Grant three. That put Grant at 52 percent shooting on threes since the start of February. After a Marcus Morris three, the Bulls reeled off six straight with Bobby Portis running the court for a layup. The Bulls would have nine first quarter assists. With Robin Lopez adding six points, the Bulls took a 26-14 lead after one quarter. The Bulls defense, which was smothering with responsible help in the first quarter, loosened up in the second. The Pistons took advantage by powering inside, especially reserve center Aron Baynes and Ish Smith pushing the ball. Detroit got within 38-32 on a Jon Leuer baseline driving dunk midway through the quarter. The Pistons reserves were the aggressors in the second quarter as Baynes and Smith combined for 18 first half points. Detroit pulled within 55-51 at halftime. Butler had 15 in the first half and eight of nine at the free throw line.
The Pistons, especially guard Reggie Jackson who was somnambulant in the first half, came out fast with Jackson scoring eight quick points and the Pistons taking a 61-59 lead three minutes into the second half. Jackson had a big second half and finished with 26 points. The Bulls then got a run from Lopez to ease back ahead 65-61. Payne’s three-point shooting kept the Bulls competitive. But the Bulls went into a slow, walk it up, passive game for much of the quarter. They would go six minutes without a field goal by anyone but Payne until a Butler jumper to tie the game at 79 going into the fourth quarter. The Pistons after being outworked in the first quarter continued to outhustle the Bulls, beating Bulls reserves to the ball and taking an 85-82 lead three minutes into the fourth quarter. The Bulls continued to stay in isolation mode for jump shots as the Pistons moved ahead 89-82 with 6:40 left as the Bulls missed four straight shots and committed a pair of turnovers after a Payne runner had the Bulls within 83-82. A Lopez layin ended a 12-3 Pistons run to start the fourth. The Pistons dominated a mostly slow paced Bulls the rest of the fourth quarter.