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DeRozan leads Bulls past Pistons, Chicago improves to 40-26

It was all about D for the Bulls Wednesday.

Avoiding a D grade and another Defeat coming into the game with five consecutive losses, countering some improved recent Detroit basketball, playing some Defense during this recent ragged stretch, Driving the ball instead of settling for jumpers and showing some Desperation with a Decisive road stretch ahead.

It called for Double D. You know, DeMar DeRozan.

And he Did it again, 36 points including 16 in the fourth quarter after the Detroit Pistons took a seven-point lead to Deliver the Bulls a 114-108 victory.

Zach LaVine added 25 points, making it 61 for the Dynamic Duo. Nikola Vucevic back from a one-game hamstring detour contributed 21 points on eight of 11 shots. In the fourth quarter, DeRozan and LaVine combined to score 24 points to 17 for the Pistons, who had just nine in the last nine minutes of the game. The Bulls 17-2 run over seven final stanza minutes with DeRozan and LaVine scoring all by one Ayo Dosunmu free throw kept the Bulls fourth in the Eastern Conference at 40-26.

Though the Pistons are 30 games below .500, DeRozan played more than 41 minutes and all but a minute of the fourth quarter.

DeMar DeRozan hits a late fourth-quarter jumper over Pistons rookie Cade Cunningham.

"(We needed a win) very bad," DeRozan admitted. "Tonight definitely was a desperate night for us to get a win. We were sluggish here and there. We all kind of got on each other in the third quarter (huddles trailing 91-84 after three) to pick it up and we did. I didn't want to lose another game. I don't care who we were playing. That was my mentality, going back home (Saturday against Cleveland) and having an opportunity to take care of home before we go out on the West Coast; it was definitely important.

"I asked (to go back into the game in the fourth)," DeRozan revealed. "That was on me. I didn't want the game to get away. At this point in the season everything matters. If I have to play 48 (minutes), I'm willing to play 48 because everything matters; no time for rest. Every one of these games are definitely critical."

Which sounds like the home stretch of the regular season, which as of Thursday has exactly a month left before the April 10 close. The Bulls for the first time in five years should be in the playoffs. That's assured for the top six teams in each conference. The Nos. 7-10 teams meet in a play-in tournament the first few days after the end of the regular season to add the seventh and eighth place playoff teams. The playoffs then begin April 16.

Toronto currently is seventh in the Eastern Conference, four and a half games behind the Bulls. Eighth place Brooklyn is seven games behind the Bulls. The Bulls play the Raptors in the United Center March 21 in the one home game among the nine following Saturday's home game with Cleveland. After that sequence, the Bulls close the schedule with five of their last six at home. The Bulls are 24-10 at home, the second best home record in the conference.

But the schedule seemed to be wearing on the Bulls recently with the season long five-game losing streak and a mounting pattern of losses against top teams. The Pistons are far from that, but have played well recently and were making the Bulls look, at least, indifferent after a better start to the game.

With Vucevic taking advantage of mismatches on switches early and scoring six of the Bulls first 12 points, the Bulls led 18-10. It would be their largest lead of the game. Coming off his hamstring soreness, Vucevic for precautions was limited to six-minute stints. But when the reserves entered, the Pistons moved ahead 26-25 after one quarter and 42-35 midday into the second quarter. The Pistons' reserves, mostly, were getting to the basket without much difficulty and superior on the boards.

Tap to listen to postgame reaction from Bulls head coach Billy Donovan after the Bulls snapped their five-game losing skid.

"I liked the way we played on both ends of the floor to start," said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "(But) they were going by us and forcing rotations in the first three quarters."

Detroit's bench had a 43-19 edge. Rookie Cade Cunningham led the Pistons with 22 points and six assists. But he also had six turnovers on some questionable passing and was scoreless in the fourth quarter when the Bulls did finally exert more defensive pressure.

The Pistons, meanwhile, are never going to be nominated for Mensa memberships. They continued to foul DeRozan as if they'd never seen him play. And though they have played better recently, you sort of wonder how since they are among the league's worst in passing and committing turnovers, which means they don't pass much, and when they do not well.

The Bulls finished the game equalling a season-high with 13 steals. They'd done it twice before. Both times against the Pistons. Talk about Dee-troit basketball!

Still, the Pistons were leading 56-53 at halftime and 91-84 after three quarters, and the outcome was thus becoming an active concern.

Which apparently led to some active huddles during timeouts.

Tap to watch full-game highlights from Chicago's 114-108 victory in Detroit on Wednesday night.

"I thought when the fourth quarter hit it looked like a level of desperation the way we were playing," said Donovan. "That was good to see. The huddles were good in terms of what the guys were talking about, what they had to do. I thought the leadership by DeMar, by Zach, by even Tristan (Thompson) in those timeouts is what they needed to do. We got to the free throw line, we got downhill, we didn't foul. I thought our discipline was really good, better than it has been. And I thought our defense was a huge factor in the fourth quarter.

"And obviously," Donovan agreed, "the way DeMar played coming down the stretch giving us some separation and breathing room."

DeRozan has had a remarkable season drawing the most national attention he ever has, voted starting All-Star, talked about as a league MVP candidate and taking over as the Bulls leader. DeRozan's recent streak of scoring and shooting games set an al-time league record. Opponents noticed.

So defenses began to react to him more quickly with double teams and traps, and the burden of carrying the team as LaVine missed time with knee issues seemed to finally catch up. He came into Wednesday's game shooting 39 percent in the losing streak.

As DeMar goes so go the Bulls?

So DeMar began the fourth quarter with a three-point play and a driving score before being subbed out with about eight minutes left. But the Bulls still were trailing 99-92, and just over a minute later with the Bulls still trailing by three, uuugh Billy, it may be time. DeMar was ready.

The Pistons were not.

Nikola Vucevic scores over Pistons big man Kelly Olynyk.

"It's impressive the way he's able to take over in the fourth," admired Vucevic. "He does it with such poise; nothing is rushed. He controls the pace, gets to his spots and get to the positions he wants and the shots he wants to take. He's been doing it for a long time. To be able to do it consistently the way he has this year and so efficiently is very impressive, the IQ and skill set. Even though the defense knows what he wants to do, it's very hard to stop."

The run was on and the young Pistons were misfiring, quick shots, long threes in transition, isolation after isolation.

Not often are visitors so happy about being in Detroit.

DeRozan tied the game at 99 with a pair of free throws. Then it was a run out after a Pistons miscue and LaVine slipping in a slash (he had 11 free throw attempts and DeRozan 13) before two more DeRozan jumpers. That concluded the 17-2 run. And then it was DeMar taking on the field, a 20 footer—anyone say Dagger?—with about a minute left for a seven-point lead. He got his second steal a moment later to run off more time before a meaningless Pistons three to make it appear competitive.

"We've got to play like that from the gate," said DeRozan about that final quarter. "We show spurts of doing it, but we've got to stop putting ourselves in a hole and working that much harder to come back and win games. We haven't been aggressive; been putting a lot of teams on the free throw line. Me and Zach talked about getting downhill and to the free throw line, and we showed that tonight."

As Cole Porter wrote, sort of, "It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely, it's DeMar."