Bulls start hot, then get the last punch in as Pistons fall when layup goes awry

CHICAGO – For as long as Reggie Jackson is idled, the Pistons are going to grope for offense on nights like Tobias Harris experienced in Chicago.

They’re also going to need a break or two. They didn’t get the one they needed when Reggie Bullock took the ball to the basket as the final seconds ticked down with Chicago nursing a two-point lead.

“I looked at the play multiple times. It’s a foul,” Bullock said after his layup to tie, contested by Bulls guard Kris Dunn, wouldn’t drop in the 107-105 loss. “He came down on my arm. It’s a foul. I’ve got to finish those layups, but if you’re asking my opinion, it’s a foul.”

The lead changed six times in the final five minutes, Chicago going ahead for good with 1:08 to play when rookie Laurie Markkanen hit a jump shot after a replay review reversed a possession call under Chicago’s basket. The Pistons missed two shots on the ensuing possession – an Avery Bradley jumper and an Andre Drummond driving layup – and then Dunn split a pair of free throws with 38 seconds left to put the Pistons down two.

Bradley, who finished with 26 points, missed a triple with about 30 seconds left, leaving approximately a four-second differential between the game and shot clocks when the Bulls took possession. Stan Van Gundy elected to play it out – “plenty of time if you get a stop,” he said – and Harris forced a turnover with about six or seven seconds left.

Harris took off in the middle of the floor with Bullock on his left flank.

“That’s always your decision,” Van Gundy said. “You’re watching the clock on defense. Are you going to call timeout or not? You’ve got numbers. You’re two on one. I don’t know that I can get us anything better calling a timeout than a two on one.”

On one hand, the Pistons were fortunate to be in the game the way Chicago exploited what Van Gundy saw as lethargic closeouts, the Bulls knocking down 17 triples on a whopping 36 attempts. On the other, they would have won if Harris, their leading scorer, would have had anything resembling a typical game. He finished 3 of 14 and 0 of 6 from the 3-point arc in a seven-point outing.

“Frustrating. Just couldn’t get in a rhythm,” Harris said. “It wasn’t nothin’ they did. I just couldn’t get in a rhythm.”

“Makes it really tough,” Van Gundy said. “Not just not scoring, but shooting the ball that badly. So we tried to lean on Avery down the stretch. I thought (Justin Holiday) did a good job. They weren’t coming off of (Harris). Then we tried to post him; he didn’t have much success there, either.”

Bradley had 19 at halftime and went 3 of 9 in the second half. With the Pistons leading by three early in the fourth quarter, a Bradley triple was wiped out by Eric Moreland’s moving screen. Chicago’s Bobby Portis tied the game seconds later with a triple, one of 10 spread among three Bulls big men. Markkanen and Nikola Mirotic, who split minutes at power forward, made four each in a combined 16 attempts and Portis, the backup center, hit two more.

“We shoud’ve been able to handle the fours,” Van Gundy said. “Portis is another deal. That one’s tough. But we should’ve been able to play better on their fours. There were a couple they got that weren’t our fault, but there’s four or five of ’em that we didn’t close hard enough.”

So lots of good things for the Pistons, from Bradley’s continued return to form after a seven-game injury absence to Drummond’s 21 points and 15 rebounds to a 12 of 29 showing from the 3-point line. But too many live-ball turnovers led to 23 Chicago points, too little offense from their leading scorer threw their offense out of whack and too many uncontested triples were allowed.

The pressure on Harris to score and score efficiently every night without Jackson is undeniable.

“Tobias has to continue to keep playing and make plays for our team,” Bradley said. “He’s a playmaker. When he’s not scoring the ball, he’s able to make plays for other guys. He just has to continue to stay positive. He’s a very good scorer. He’ll play better next game. But we definitely need Tobias to play well in order for us to have a good offensive performance.”