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

Avery Bradley scored 26 points but the Pistons got lit up from the 3-point arc in a tough loss at Chicago
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

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.”

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FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Monday afternoon’s 118-107 loss to the Charlotte Hornets at Little Caesars Arena

1-DIFFERENT OUTCOME – The second half of the Pistons season opened the way the first half did: Charlotte at Little Caesars Arena. Any other similarities were hard to discern. Last time it was Charlotte missing key pieces, starters Nic Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This time it was the Pistons with Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson and Jon Leuer all out. And the biggest difference was the result, a loss this time in which the Pistons led by six at halftime but gave up 34 points in the third quarter – and 68 in the second half – and didn’t have enough firepower to claw their way back. Remember last month in the throes of the seven-game losing streak when Stan Van Gundy talked about the need for his four best players – Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and Reggie Jackson – to play well for the Pistons to put themselves in position to win? Well, with Jackson out for an extended period that rings even more true for the last three standing. And when none come particularly close to peak performance – the case in Monday’s loss – it gets that much more difficult. Drummond’s numbers (three points, 10 rebounds) paled next to Dwight Howard’s (21, 17). Bradley took 19 shots and you’d be hard pressed to find a bad one in the bunch but he wound up making just six and finished with 15 points. Harris hit consecutive triples with less than five minutes to go and Bradley added another as the Pistons quickly halved an 18-point deficit but when they had a chance to cut it to seven Bradley missed another short jump shot and Charlotte bumped its lead back to 13 just as quickly.

2-TOLLIVER TIME – Tobias Harris looked like he was going to bury the disappointment of Saturday’s seven-point outing at Chicago when he scored eight points in the first 3:09. But foul trouble limited him to 10 first-half minutes and he still had just those eight points at halftime. But the Pistons held up OK in his absence because Anthony Tolliver played his best game in a while, hitting 5 of 6 3-point shots and finishing with 17 points in 26 minutes. Andre Drummond also was disrupted by foul trouble, playing less than 15 first-half minutes. Both picked up a third foul on the same Charlotte possession, five seconds apart, late in the second quarter. After Drummond got hit for tripping Dwight Howard on a move to the basket, Harris got nailed for closing out too aggressively and nudging Marvin Williams, no doubt aware Williams had hit three first-quarter triples against him. Led by Tolliver, the Pistons had another good showing from the 3-point arc, finishing 15 of 29. But when you give up 118 points, you need more than a potent 3-point attack.

3-INJURY COUNT – Over the season’s first half, the Pistons lost 59 man-games to injury among the group that began the season comprising Stan Van Gundy’s top seven. Jon Leuer led the count with 33 games missed; he’s now at 34 and counting. Stanley Johnson missed nine games and made it 10 against Charlotte as he continues to deal with tightness in his hip flexor muscle. Reggie Jackson missed his ninth game Monday since spraining his ankle on Dec. 27. Andre Drummond missed two games with bruised ribs and Avery Bradley seven with a groin injury. The only players who played in all 41 games in the first half were Tobias Harris and Ish Smith. Van Gundy said Leuer was administered another dose of an anti-inflammatory drug for his ankle injury – a bone fragment is lodged in a ligament – and continues to resist the notion of surgery which, Van Gundy said, would likely end his season.

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