The Bulls Saturday suffered a potentially fatal loss in their playoff drive as the Detroit Pistons ground out a tough, physical 94-90 victory.
The defeat left the Bulls at 38-38. The Pistons in seventh place at 41-36 also gained the tiebreaker over the Bulls with a 3-1 season series edge. The Indiana Pacers in eighth place won to take a two-game lead over the Bulls at 40-36.
The Bulls made one last gasp ,desperate bid after trailing 90-83 with 43 seconds left. They got a three from Jimmy Butler, a turnover and a pair of Butler free throws. It looked like Butler drew a charge with 20.4 seconds left trailing by two, but it was called a block. The Pistons made the free throws and went on to the win.
Butler was brilliant with the first triple double of his career with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists. Pau Gasol had 16 points and 14 rebounds and Aaron Brooks added 14 points. But the Bulls shot just 38.6 percent as they could not find offense elsewhere. Reggie Jackson led Detroit with 22 points. Tobias Harris had 21 points as all five Pistons starters scored in double figures.
Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson were both unable to play with injuries that kept them out in Houston. And, of course, Joakim Noah remained out. E’Twaun Moore and Bobby Portis started, and it was a fast start for the Bulls behind the shooting of Gasol. He scored seven of the Bulls first 11 points as the Bulls grabbed a 13-8 lead and the positive start coach Fred Hoiberg considers vital. Butler handling the ball extensively with Rose out had six first quarter assists and the Bulls shot 54.5 percent. But the Pistons challenged behind the shooting of Tobias Harris and the Bulls led 27-26 after the first quarter.
The Pistons shot ahead early in the second quarter with three consecutive three-point field goals, two by Anthony Tolliver, to take a 37-33 lead. Hoiberg quickly returned Butler to the game with Butler playing his most aggressive since his early February knee injury. His rebound of a Moore miss and follow dunk held off a Pistons run. The Bulls couldn’t make their shots, but sharp defense from Butler and Justin Holiday thwarted the Pistons as the Bulls trailed 46-45 at halftime. Butler was well on the way to his first triple double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
The Bulls continued to play tough and hard, strong on the boards and active to the ball. But they couldn’t get shots to go as the Pistons were covering fast on defense, the Bulls after an 18-point second quarter with three baskets in the first six minutes of the third quarter. But The Pistons could only manage a 53-52 lead as Butler reached his triple double early in the third quarter. The game remained fierce, underscoring that teams playing to get into the playoffs seemed more motivated than the teams at the top, many of whom were resting players. The Bulls nudged ahead 56-53 on a Gasol jumper, but the Pistons came back with the Bulls resorting to intentional fouls on Andre Drummond. Aaron Brooks scored seven straight points with some circus-type drives, but the Pistons moved the ball nicely out of double teams for a pair of threes to lead 70-65 entering the fourth quarter.
Brooks continued his inspired play early in the fourth quarter even as the Pistons took a 75-74 lead with 8:47 left in the physically contested game. But the Bulls continued to miss from outside as the Pistons held onto a 79-75 lead with 6:34 remaining after Drummond finished a lob dunk. But the Bulls soon got him out fouling him as he was one of 10 on free throws. But the Bulls could not find enough offense as the Pistons smothered Butler and Gasol and pushed ahead 88-83 with 49.5 seconds left.