Bulls stall out in Detroit with 107-91 loss

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.

By Sam Smith | 3.22.2015 | 1:18 a.m. CT

The Bulls know bad times in Detroit. Though not against Joel Anthony, Spencer Dinwiddle, Caron Butler and Reggie Jackson. Yet, it was against those guys Saturday the Bulls lost a 19-point third quarter lead in losing 107-91 to the Pistons.

Remember back some 30 years ago when the American car industry began to run out of fuel? You’d buy a Pinto or Vega or Volare or Gremlin and it would look fancy and take off fast. But before long the engine would fall off. That pretty much described the Bulls in the Motor City as they scored 19 points in the last 19 minutes of the game and were outscored by 35 points in the last quarter and a half.

“No excuses,” said Joakim Noah. “We felt this was a game we should have had. We let an important one slip away. The ups and downs have been pretty crazy all year. We’re disappointed, but we’ve got to fight back. We sucked down the stretch.”

The Bulls fell to 42-29 and back to fourth in the Eastern Conference and a game ahead of fifth place Washington. The Bulls also are 20-15 on the road, losing their former road dominance with their sixth loss in their last seven road games. Two have been to the 25-44 Pistons since the All-Star break in a period the Pistons had lost 11 of 14 before Saturday.

The Bulls were led by Pau Gasol, adding to his league leading double/double total with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Aaron Brooks had a fast start with 15 first half points that led to a 56-44 Bulls halftime lead. But his play was indicative of the team’s mentality as he finished with 19 points. Noah had six points, seven assists and 13 rebounds, and Taj Gibson probably played the best in his limited minutes in return from injury with 13 points in about 18 minutes.

“We’re up 19; all we have to do is play some good defense,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Be solid. It didn’t happen. The physicality of their bigs inside, Joel Anthony—yes, they’re complaining about not being able to handle Joel Anthony–impacted the game, (Tayshaun) Prince is physical.”

Tayshaun Prince? He’s about 115 pounds.

“We’re heading down the stretch; we have to have our stuff in order,” said Thibodeau.

This was a bad game for pretty much everyone, Thibodeau as well as the players.

It’s an easy second guess of Thibodeau as the players seemingly ran down like a wind up toy.

“A lot of sloppy play, turnovers,” noted Noah. “We didn’t play smart basketball. We were tired. When you’re tired like that you’ve got to be smart. I missed some layups, didn’t play well down the stretch. I’ve got to play better. No excuses.”

But there were obvious statistical signs of fatigue as the Bulls went basically with a seven and a half player (Gibson the half) rotation while the Pistons even with no playoffs in sight used nine players and played only one more than 30 minutes. The Bulls used every starter at least 30 minutes and Noah just under. And it was the Pistons reserves after a rough second quarter who dominated the game in the second half along with Jackson, who led the Pistons with 22 points and 11 assists.

As telling was the Bulls with one blocked shot while little used Anthony alone had four. The Pistons also had 12 fast break points to three for the Bulls; the Bulls had two steals while the Pistons had nine. Those all were indications of slow reactions, a team out of energy. Though with seven of the next 10 days with no games for the Bulls you could understand Thibodeau trying to bleed one more game out of his regulars.

And they really wouldn’t have had to do much but think a little bit to have succeeded despite the apparent lethargy.

The Bulls started slowly, trailing 13-4 and 30-20 after one quarter with Brooks keeping them as close as that. But then the Bulls had a dominant second quarter behind an active Gibson, Nikola Mirotic getting to the free throw line (despite one of eight overall shooting in the game) and Gasol’s play. The Bulls took that 12-point halftime lead. And they looked like they were going to make it easy as they finally got to Gasol inside to open the third quarter as he was being defended by smaller players and then had Gasol stepping outside for another three, making it 11 of 21 for him on the season.

“I thought we did a lot of good things to build a lead,” said Thibodeau. “You can’t let your guard down in this league, particularly against a team that is going to shoot threes the way they’re going to shoot threes. They can make up ground quickly and they did. It’s disappointing.”

Especially seeing how easily this game could have been won even with whatever fatigue existed. It just took some awareness from the players. While Gasol was finally getting the ball in the post and going to the free throw line in the third quarter and Noah was firing those pinpoint passes for scores, the Pistons were fouling. The Bulls were in the bonus and shooting free throws with more than eight minutes left and a 72-53 lead.

Just go to the basket! Get inside!

The Bulls players had a better idea with Thibodeau imploring them to penetrate.

They shot.

Tony Snell (one for eight for two points) short shot, Mike Dunleavy three, Kirk Hinrich jumper, Gasol fadeaway, Snell 20 footer, Hinrich 20 footer; Snell three. With more than eight minutes left and a 19-point lead and the opponent in the penalty, the Bulls got four trips to the free throw line and went five of eight while missing seven jumpers. That made it 80-79 Pistons going into the fourth quarter.

You could see the Bulls just grinding to a halt.

The Bulls hung around for a few minutes early in the fourth on driving scores from Brooks and Hinrich. But Noah missed inside and threw the ball away and then the Bulls apparently decided they’d seen enough of Michigan as they missed five consecutive threes in two minutes while the Pistons were running off 17 straight points (the Pistons had a 14-0 third quarter run as well). Check, please. The valet is waiting.

“I thought we were going to win,” said Gibson, who said he had some tightness from working his way back while his ankle was good. “We had a huge lead. With this team when they shoot threes like they do it’s one of those nights. They came down firing those crazy threes and that sparked a big run. Last game we played them was the same; huge lead going and got lackadaisical. You could see the momentum shift in the fourth and when we tried to sub they got going, had a lot of steam and hit a lot of tough shots.”

“Disappointing,” agreed Gibson, “but look at every team doing the same thing.”

Indeed, it’s not so easy down the stretch with the teams going nowhere playing loose and sometimes the season just catches up with you physically and mentally. It doesn’t seem like third or fourth or fifth—all of where the Bulls are likely to land–should mean that much difference.

Fourth or fifth gets the Bulls if they were to win the first round likely Atlanta in the second round. They are considered weaker than the Cavs despite the much better record because of a lack of a star player. Though the Bulls haven’t beaten the Hawks this season and have defeated Cleveland. Finish third and that likely means the Cavs in the second round if you can get there, which the Bulls haven’t two of the last three seasons.

So just play it out and if you think you have the potential to go somewhere in the playoffs you have to beat the best, anyway. The Bulls still are without Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose, though the Pistons were without Greg Monroe. Of course, when the Bulls lost to the Pistons last month, Dinwiddle ran circles around Rose and the Pistons had half their players as they just had made the trade for Jackson and he wasn’t with them yet. So the Bulls do get a big break after all. They won’t have to face the Pistons in the playoffs.