On Halloween eve in Auburn Hills Friday, the Bulls and Detroit Pistons dressed in very clever costumes that made them look like the greatest athletes in the world. It was a heck of a disguise.
“We came out lackadaisical,” said Jimmy Butler. “Can’t happen. Not in this league. Every team, especially on the road, you are going to get their best effort. They came out and whipped our tail, basically, on both ends of the floor. The energy was low. When the starters start out that way, the bench tried their best to get us back in there and the energy just wasn’t there. We were careless with the ball, making lazy passes, trying to catch the ball with one hand, trying to thread the needle.”
But, you know, other than that?
The result was a 98-94 Pistons overtime victory in which the Pistons shot 37.5 percent and missed 14 free throws. But the Bulls were pummeled on the offensive boards 20-8 and committed 20 turnovers. And even with that in a game that made Donald Trump’s hair look stylish, the Bulls had two possessions to win it in the last 38 seconds of regulation.
Perhaps appropriately, the first time Tony Snell dribbled around until the shot clock ran out. And then after getting a miss from Reggie Jackson and the ball with about 22 seconds left, Derrick Rose held the ball outside on the deep right wing dribbling and then shot an air ball as the clock ran out.
“I was aiming at the wrong basket,” Rose offered with an unhappy and ironic smirk.
That’s the double vision Rose has had since his orbital surgery. It appeared to be contagious as Butler was five of 19 in leading the Bulls with 23 points and he and Rose combined to shoot nine for 32.
Nikola Mirotic had 22 points for the Bulls and Pau Gasol had 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Butler also had 11 rebounds and three steals and shot 14 free throws. But the Pistons got 20 points and 20 rebounds from Andre Drummond, who dominated everyone inside. Marcus Morris had 26 points and Reggie Jackson 22 for the 3-0 Pistons. The Bulls fell to 2-1 and play Orlando in the United Center Sunday.
“They got 20 offensive rebounds and 20 turnovers. It is going to be tough to win when that happens,” agreed Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “We still had an opportunity with the last shot in regulation even though we gave the ball up that many times. We have to get that cleaned up. The turnovers were careless, unforced, turnovers you shake your head at. Hopefully, we get it cleaned up tomorrow (at practice) before our game on Sunday.”
It was a chaotic effort from the Bulls complete with inefficiency and clumsiness. Detroit, no more artful, was nonetheless more engaged and active. They dominated in second chance points and points in the paint. But what stopped the Bulls as much as the Pistons was their own inertia, a return to their old habits of somnambulant offense.
It was the third game in four nights for the Bulls to start the season; though it was for the Pistons as well. Still, it seems clear the Bulls are not prepared to play Hoiberg’s electric style yet after a preseason in which Rose played 10 minutes, most veterans skipped a few games and some, like Taj Gibson, were brought along slowly.
The Bulls repeatedly walked into offense and were beaten to the ball on the boards and on the floor, though Drummond does that to most teams as he’s averaging more than 16 rebounds in the three games. He was too fast for Gasol. It wasn’t like the Bulls were awful on defense; after all, the Pistons shot below 40 percent and six for 28 on threes. But it was an unusual defensive strategy that had the Bulls switching constantly on the pick and roll in the form of a zone. They, unfortunately, played it soft at times when the big men got stuck on switches with guards. Plus, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy is one of the masters in dictating matchups. He had Gasol and Mirotic in constant pick and roll coverage, and Gasol tends not to be aggressive to string out the ball handler and recover, which is the goal.
Joakim Noah is obviously better at that. But Noah’s offense has been horrific to start the season and he made just his first field goal Friday in Game 3. But Noah missed both his free throw attempts and is zero for six on the season. A coach cannot keep a player on the floor to close games who cannot make free throws. Detroit escaped with the poor shooting Drummond, but he was getting 20 rebounds and 20 points and the best plus/minus in the game.
I liked what Hoiberg tried in having Snell defend quick guard Jackson with Snell’s size and long arms. It’s a tactic Phil Jackson often used against small guards with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. But, alas, Snell is no Jordan or Pippen, not that anyone is. And Snell gave into the switches too easily and the Bulls were exploited in the mismatches.
Not that anyone stood out, particularly.
Mirotic started well with his own 7-0 spurt late in the first quarter after the Pistons jumped out to a 15-6 start. But Mirotic gave up the ball carelessly several times late in the game and either had he or Gasol in those pick and rolls as Van Gundy singled them out as the targets to attack against the Bulls.
Perhaps the Bulls night was summed up as well midway through the fourth quarter when Doug McDermott left the game before Butler was allowed to return on a substitution and the Bulls played with four players. They fouled Drummond, who made one of two, which was above his game average.
“It was a grinded out game,” said Van Gundy. “It was a fight all the way, just a fight.”
So much for the poetic beauty of the new free flowing, wide open, three-point shooting NBA. In the Midwest, anyway.
Neither team seemed better with 15 lead changes and 18 ties as after that early Pistons lead the game was within a few baskets both ways the rest of the way. The Pistons led 23-19 after one quarter and then the lead was exchanged throughout the second quarter before the Bulls led 39-35 at halftime with Rose and Butler a combined two of 13. Rose would not score until the fourth quarter, though he passed to Butler for a nice dunk on a fast break late in the half.
The score was tied at 64 after three quarters after Detroit had gone ahead 53-45 earlier in the quarter. Butler’s back door lob dunk on an Aaron Brooks pass was a highlight, though the offense had mostly come to a halt with considerable isolation play.
No one wants to make excuses, but it takes time to build to an expedited offense.
After the Pistons scored eight straight points early in the fourth quarter for a 72-67 lead, Hoiberg got Rose back in and Rose got going, driving for a couple of scores and drawing the defense to hand to Gibson for a dunk. Drummond was basically holding off four Bulls at a time on the boards for offensive rebounds. But it still looked like the Bulls might steal the win after Rose blew by Jackson for a layup to tie at 83 with 1:26 left.
The Bulls forced the Pistons into a 24-second violation. But the Bulls got into the play slowly. Butler then couldn’t get a shot off and handed to Snell with about five seconds on the shot clock and Snell dribbled until the clock expired. The Bulls got yet another stop on a Jackson miss with Rose going in among the big bodies to get the rebound with about 22 seconds left.
Time out? Hoiberg passed, which is his style.
“We wanted to attack in that situation,” said Hoiberg “I like the flow. Derrick had been attacking and making plays in the fourth quarter. You trust him with the ball in his hands. He’s a guy who has made a lot of big shots over the course of his career.”
Rose dribbled up, standing on the right wing, waving off everyone and eventually pulling up for a shot with two seconds remaining. It missed badly. Hoiberg wanted Rose to penetrate again, but Drummond had come across the lane. That was another issue Friday. The Bulls failed to find time for McDermott, who made his two three pointers, and the Pistons were squeezing the court against Rose, bringing a second defender regularly. Though Rose knows he should have gone to the basket.
“He came over and said….I’m sure he wished he could have had it over again,” said Hoiberg. “You trust Derrick. He’s a heck of a basketball player. I thought he played very well in the fourth quarter. I’m sure, ask him, he’d want to have that possession back.”
Rose didn’t argue.
“I should have pump faked,” lamented Rose. “Young guy was sticking me, too (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope). No excuses. I should have made some smart decisions, but made (five) turnovers. I’ll learn from it. Maybe (we need to) get into the sets quicker so we have the ball moving, play with a faster pace a little bit more. We’ll look at film, go figure it out.
“I tried to spark something in the fourth quarter,” said Rose. “My body feels good. That’s the frustrating part of it. You wake up every morning and want your eye to be healed. Can’t rush it, got to be patient. It’s improving every day.”
It’s steps for the Bulls as well, two ahead and now one back. The overtime was over almost immediately as the Pistons scored seven straight points in the first 90 seconds and the Bulls only had faint hope as the Pistons missed six more free throws.
“Every loss is frustrating,” said Rose. “Just hard playing through what I am playing through. While I’m out there I’m trying to give my team everything I’ve got.”