The Bulls pulled out a win in Detroit, getting big contributions from some unexpected players. Zach LaVine led the way with 25 points as the Bulls beat the Pistons 108-99.
Rarely has anyone been as grateful to be in Detroit.
And in January.
But the Bulls, as they might say in Motown, ain't too proud to beg as they ended their six-game losing streak Saturday with a 108-99 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
Perhaps not dancing in the streets, but at least it wasn't the same old song as the Bulls lost an 18-point second-quarter lead and 12 at halftime with another cautious third quarter. The Pistons even with center Andre Drummond ejected early in the third cut the Bulls lead to 65-63 with 7:53 left on a Tony Snell three.
But this time in finishing off a season sweep of the Pistons—for almost 30 percent of the Bulls wins as both teams are now 14-26—the Bulls gathered and led by 10 after three quarters. And then seeing that reduced to a basket midway through the fourth quarter, the Bulls were the resistant guys this time with big scores from Lauri Markkanen and Daniel Gafford, a Kris Dunn steal and Zach LaVine's driving layup with 90 seconds left after a Luke Kornet offensive rebound.
Wait, whose offensive rebound?
"We need all hands on deck right now with the big fellow (Wendell Carter Jr.) out," said LaVine. "Luke had a breakout game; that's what he can do. He can block shots at a high level and shoot that three. We needed it; he helped us out."
There's next man up. And then there's, Really, him?
"He had a very difficult October and November and December," said Boylen. "He kept working and he battled through. We felt he was a guy that could play in the pocket. He can also pop and shoot. He's a very good passer and he can rim protect. He had two blocks tonight. He's really been grinding; he's been doing everything extra."
An obviously weary LaVine from his 43-point attempted game saving in Friday's loss to Indiana led the Bulls with 25 points and a team-high six assists. But LaVine was one of nine on threes as he also attempted eight of the team's 14 free throws.
"Zach LaVine, he's the head of the snake; he gets it going for them," said Pistons forward Christian Wood, who had 17 points and 14 rebounds.
"We finally closed one out," said LaVine. "We've had success against Detroit. It was a little bit of an ugly game, but we did what we had to do to win. We've played with some of the best teams. We've given up fourth-quarter leads and have to play out the game and learn how to close out games to get the win at the end."
This perhaps was more relief than celebration for the Bulls the way the new year started. But the play of centers Gafford and Kornet was at least temporary relief in Carter's absence.
Kornet had a season-high 15 points with two blocks and two steals. He made three of nine three-pointers and recorded a team-best plus-20 game rating. He may even have gotten a nickname.
"I don't think necessarily that there was any surprise that I needed to step up," the 7-1 summer free-agent acquisition said. "With Wendell out we needed people to step up. You've got to do your best to stay ready. Honestly, the beginning of the season was disappointing and difficult, going through some stuff. I was playing normal basketball (Saturday) and I just happened to get the ball with some good opportunities and made the shots; there wasn't anything special. Guys were making the right plays and a lot of times it was just me ending up with the open shot. It's good to be able to help the team because that's what I was brought here to do. There's still a road to getting back. It's great to have a night like this."
Kornet was sidelined for a time with sinus surgery. But he seemed fated to merely increase the team's average size alongside Cristiano Felicio. With Carter, the team's most reliable big man and Gafford moving up in the rotation, Kornet hadn't even played double-figure minutes since November.
And then Saturday, Kornet had a dozen first-quarter points, making his first five shots to enable the Bulls to lead 35-20 after the first quarter. It proved a difference.
"I thought our energy in the first quarter was maybe the difference in the game," said Boylen. "We talk about the spread in the first quarter being the difference in the score a lot of times in NBA games. I was not happy with our start (Friday) night. So I liked the adjustment we made. I think we're 4-2 on the second night of back to backs. So give credit to our guys for their character, their energy, conditioning."
Markkanen and Gafford each had 14 points and seven rebounds and Tomas Satoransky added 10 points.
Though even with the breakout game for Kornet, whom LaVine called "the Big Posture" in his post-game interview with NBCChicagoSports, the Pistons bench led by Derrick Rose with 20 points held a 53-36 margin.
The Pistons started Rose in the second half to provide a spark and he almost burned his former team.
"Derrick is a godsend again," said Pistons coach Dwane Casey. "I have to cut his minutes. I hate to say that, but he can't continue to play the minutes he is playing and the type of usage he is playing. We have to make sure we take care of him. He wants to play, which I love. His spirit; his heart is in the right place. And he wants to win."
But Rose's contribution wasn't quite enough when Drummond got himself ejected early in the third quarter. Gafford was showing the bounce he'd been missing in his first start Friday, scoring over a lackluster Drummond and then shouting at him. Drummond took the ball out of bounds and inbounded it off the back of Gafford's head. Gafford had taken a hard elbow from Drummond on a previous possession without a foul call and was responding in his way.
Bulls vs. Pistons recap
"I'm not going to come out and be intimidated by a guy that's bigger than me," said Gafford. "I understand you have size on you, but I'm not going to back down from a challenge. I like challenges. I either succeed or fail; tonight I succeeded."
The officials assessed each a technical foul with 10:42 left in the third quarter and then after reviewing video decided to eject Drummond because he threw the ball at Gafford's head, albeit lightly.
The Pistons also were without Blake Griffin, out for the season, and Luke Kennard. But they shot back into the game when Drummond left, and then again in the fourth quarter. But this time even as the margin shrunk to a mid-range basket, the Bulls never gave up the lead. They got clutch fourth-quarter threes from Chandler Hutchison and Ryan Arcidiacono and more than just hearing it through the grapevine, they had only good things to say about being in Detroit.