Bulls suffocate Pistons defensively in 97-82 victory, improve to 3-0

The Bulls defense had 13 steals and 11 blocks and held the Pistons to 54 points through three quarters in the win.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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It may forever be called "the Sequence," when Ayo Dosunmu blocked a driving attempt by the Detroit Pistons' Cory Joseph, which was picked up by center Isaiah Stewart who was about to dunk the ball when Lonzo Ball came across from the weak side and blocked the dunk after which Alex Caruso stripped the dribble the Pistons recovered and... off the Bulls were running again.

Just as it may forever be called "the Steal," when Caruso was bodying up the dribbler when Ball collapsed from the blind side for the surprise double team and... off the Bulls were running again.

Or how it may forever be called "the Block," when Saddiq Bey was slicing in for a dunk when Zach LaVine left his man and delivered the block and... off the Bulls were running again.

To a third consecutive victory to begin the season Saturday, 97-82 over the Pistons with DeMar DeRozan leading six Bulls in double figures with 21 points, Nikola Vucevic with 15 points and 19 rebounds, Zach LaVine on a quiet shooting night with 14 points, Ball with 13 and Caruso with 12.

Those were the numbers that were counted to determine victory. But it was the others so vital to this Bulls team and a surprising (at least to "experts") elite Bulls defense with 13 steals and 11 blocks that more than offset a double-digit rebounding deficit and enabled the Bulls to run up a 31-point lead early in the fourth quarter when the fans began streaming for the exits.

That's happened in recent years because the Bulls were the ones being thumped.

Not this time.

Highlights from Chicago's 97-82 win over Detroit at the United Center on Saturday night.

And once again primarily because of relentless defensive play that most outsiders doubted, but which has the Bulls in the top five in the league in defensive rating, allowing 94.7 points per game and 30 percent three-point shooting. Admittedly, the Bulls were substantially favored in all three games against teams that remain winless. And may be for some time.

Though the effort has been as amazing as it's been contagious.

Caruso had five steals, Ball three and Vucevic two. Ball had four blocks, Vucevic three and DeRozan two, the former Raptor who will see his old team when the Bulls are in Toronto Monday even peering through blurred vision in the fourth quarter after being poked in the eye to dive on the floor and retrieve his own miss, down on his stomach getting the ball out to Ball for a three pointer for an 85-58 lead. That's when the Pistons emptied their bench with 9:48 left as DeRozan and Ball embraced.

It's all love for now.

"We're just going out there playing for each other, playing hard, trying to be be aggressive and bring physicality out there," said DeRozan. "Trying to give ourselves opportunities to get out in transition. We knew offense was going to take a little bit of time. I'd rather it be this way, relying in our defense because we can continue to build defensively and then get our offense to come around."

This wasn't what we figured, though Bulls coach Billy Donovan said he did, that offense, especially with three offensive-oriented All-Stars like LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic, takes time because they are so accustomed to each being the focus of their teams' offenses.

"Offensive is always more difficult," Donovan insisted. "Sometimes people think you throw those scorers out there and they are going to score. But it never works out that way. When you have players like DeMar and Zach and Vooch who have played a certain way their entire careers, and now you are coming into a situation with other elite scorers, that's always the thing that takes longest. If the group is committed to work defensively, to get over screens, win the point of screens, to rotate, help each other, scramble, the defense to me always comes a lot easier.

"You can't really consider yourself a really good team if you don't defend," Donovan reiterated. "Clearly if you go back and look statistically at teams that have gone from the first round to the second round, from the second round to the conference finals, every single one of those teams is in the top 10 defensively. They just are. The offense is going to come, but it will take some time for them to learn to play with each other. You've got to be great on both ends. I don't know any team that has won a championship that has not been able to play offense (as well). You have to play both ends of the floor. How many points did we have tonight? So two out of three games, we haven't scored past 100. I would've expected this coming into this year. People wouldn't have."

Not me, either.

Billy Donovan, Alex Caruso, and DeMar DeRozan spoke to the media postgame following Chicago's 97-82 win over Detroit.

But here it is, at least for now, and it has looked impressive, an average of 17 fast break points per game with 10 steals and eight blocks despite being a relatively undersized team. And a lot of that, especially on the ball, has been because of the inspiring tag team point guard play of Ball, averaging just two turnovers per game in 35 minutes, and Caruso averaging three steals and many more deflections and annoyances.

This Bulls group has been unselfish and playing fast, but more impressively competing relentlessly, hustling, recovering, pressuring and helping, forcing shooters out of their spots and comfort zones and just being so... infuriating.

"It's just competing," said Caruso. "A lot of times we play small lineups. Vooch is our only big man we play. It's something we talked about at the beginning of the year, management has asked about, coach has talked about: We've got to earn it. We can have this great team on paper and talk about what we are going to do, but if you don't go out there and perform it doesn't really mean anything.

"Defense is all care," Caruso added. "It's effort, attitude and execution; those are the three things I think it takes to be a good defensive team. Lonzo, I think me and him have the same mindset on defense. Just trying to be pests, blow up plays, get deflections, anything to start the break because when we are in transition you all see we are really lethal. It's just about getting stops to get out there."

All the teams talk about it; it's the Bulls who for a change are doing it.

Alex Caruso has five steals and a blocked shot while Lonzo Ball collected three steals and four blocks in the victory on Saturday night.

Alex Caruso (5 steals, 1 block) and Lonzo Ball (3 steals, 4 blocks) were a defensive force against Detroit.

Though it didn't begin well for the Bulls in the rematch with the rebuilding Pistons still without No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham. The Pistons apparently had recorded the opening game and noticed Vucevic isn't exactly Bill Russell. So they called every play to start going at Vucevic in the post, taking a 9-0 lead.

But Vucevic struck back as he can with a pair of scores, one a three. But it looked like a refreshed Pistons team with the Bulls doing that second of the back to back. Detroit led 23-21 late in the first when the Bulls' combative corps with Caruso, Javonte Green and Troy Brown (later to replaced by Dosunmu) produced a pair of immediate turnovers and off the Bulls were to a 31-28 lead after one quarter.

Then later came the sequence, et al, a 54-43 Bulls halftime lead. And then six gruesome Pistons third quarter minutes without a score and another nice play late in the quarter from the Illinois rookie when he anticipated Caruso again frustrating Jerami Grant (nine points), boxing Grant into the corner and forcing a long pass out. Dosunmu dashed to midcourt for it and finished as the Bulls began emptying the building with a 79-54 lead going into the fourth quarter.

"The organization did a good job of bringing the team together with guys in a second unit that all have something to prove, including myself," said Caruso. "Continually pushing that we are NBA players and deserve to be here. And guys like Zo's a natural defensive player and he's going to be naturally active, be in passing lanes, get deflections, rebounds. Then you get guys like Vooch, DeMar, Zach, guys who have been All-Stars, who have scored 20 plus per night, 25 plus a night, you get those guys to buy in, which they've done. And they've done a good job of leading and transforming their mindset from maybe where they have been on past teams. Someone's always leading the group and taking charges and making sure we are holding ourselves to a good standard."

And just like DeRozan said, no problem with he and Zach.

The pundits got that wrong, too.

With LaVine missing shots, DeRozan stepped in to hit, 11 points in the first quarter when LaVine went dry.

"I knew it wasn't going to be a big deal between us offensively," DeRozan reminded. "It's just a feel, an understanding with two great offensive scorers. Both are unselfish. We have no egos, we don't get on that court feeling we have any sense of entitlement, like I should shoot. We've got one common goal, and that is to win. We just try to play off each other. Whenever there is a lapse offensively, any one of us can get it going any second. And the other one realizes that. It's easy. The crazy thing is we haven't even got into a rhythm we know we can get."

You mean it gets better than this?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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