As bad as the Bulls looked on their Western Conference portion of the road trip, especially in the 2 games post-Rose, they had their excuses. For one, psychologically it had to be a kick in the nuts to lose Rose again. In the Clippers game, it was a noon start against an extremely good team. And while Utah is not a good team, that was the Bulls 4th game in 5 nights.
This was game 5 in 7 nights, so it wasn't exactly much more rest, but it was against a team in the East. And those are (unfortunately) their new contemporaries as they are very much in the mix for a playoff berth. Tonight showed that even after injuries they still have some talent left in a 20-point beatdown of the Pistons in Detroit.
(Hey, so that's what 'more than enough to win with' means!)
It was nearly all due to a fantastic second half, including an over 8 minute run where the Pistons went scoreless. The Pistons shot under 28% for the entire half, 0-6 from three and 6-13 from the line. They looked like the under-performing but talented group they've been much of this season (I blame the coach, and of course some weird roster construction). While their jumbo-sized frontcourt and Brandon Jennings started the game well, by the end only Rodney Stuckey had a quality game for Detroit with 25 points in 30 minutes off the bench.
For the Bulls it was much more balanced. Luol Deng opened up both halves on fire and finished 11-17 for 27 points. He almost seems more comfortable without Rose, not needing to be stretched out at the three-point line as much and taking more aggressive play to the rim or the FT line. It's not ultimately the best look for pretty offense but he's not as unskilled as his reputation suggest.
Tony Snell received his second straight start alongside Deng on the wing and had the best game of his career so far. Playing 37 minutes (welcome to ThibsBall, Tony!), Snell was more aggressive with his shot and even better he made a lot of them, going 3-5 from three and 5-9 overall for 13 points to go with 3 assists. Snell struggled defensively against Stuckey (as did Dunleavy...Deng had to be put on Stuckey eventually) but it was an overall really positive sign for Snell as he's needed to soak up minutes for the time being and hopefully all season. He certainly outperformed a similarly-styled draftee in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (picked twelve spots ahead of Snell) tonight.
Taj Gibson probably deserves top billing as he scored a career-high 23 points, only missing 2 of his 13 shots with one of those misses being a half-court heave to end the first half. Gibson was running Greg Monroe all over in the first half and hit several jumpers. The team was kind of with him in that outside proficiency in the first half, and in the second half Gibson and his teammates really started doing more work inside. Tom Thibodeau made adjustments to get his bigs like Taj and Noah more active in the offense (Noah had 12 of his 13 points in the second half) getting them increasingly easier and easier points for the Bulls.
And the Noah/Taj/Deng defense started forcing Detroit into poor habits (Kirk Hinrich was really good in the 2nd half as well). The Bulls quickly opened an 8-point lead to start the second half but it wasn't until that massive Detroit drought in the 4th to where the lead eventually got to above 20. And of course with 3 minutes left and after a timeout, all the starters were out there. It was like old times...though maybe not so much worried about the Thibs's guys burning out for the playoffs as acknowledging it as evidence of how his team's effort and focus being what may very well get them to the postseason in the first place.