Just when it looked like the Bulls had finally found their footing and were about to turn the corner, they fall to the lowly Detroit Pistons, 107-91. The upsetting (or perhaps bewildering) part was that it wasn't as though the Bulls were thoroughly outplayed, either. The Bulls were actually up by as many as 19 at one point. But then, after Reggie Jackson posterized Joakim Noah in the third quarter, Detroit ran away with the game. This game was quite literally a game of impressive, lengthy runs.
The Pistons started hot. Meanwhile, the Bulls, unsurprisingly, did not. Chicago trailed 30-20 after one quarter, but we'll cut them some slack because back-to-backs in March are the worst part of the NBA schedule. Plus, Caron Butler went nova, scoring 13 points. And Andre Drummond added six points and seven rebounds. The Pistons looked legit good, but then they seemed to remember that they're the Pistons. The same Pistons that had lost 11 out of 12 coming into tonight.
Once the second quarter got underway, the Bulls immediately went on 14-2 run to tie the game at 32. That run was a sign of things to come. As the quarter progressed, Nikola Mirotic was dropping lush passes while Taj Gibson provided the scoring. Taj looked great, actually. Perhaps fully healthy for the first time since damn near October. So seeing him pivot and spin and thrust easily off his ankle was reassuring. But effectively, the Bulls went on a quarter-long run. They won the frame 36-14, playing with energy and tempo. Joakim Noah was doing his Point Center thing. The defense picked up the intensity. Overall, a fantastic quarter of basketball by the Bulls.
In the third quarter, the Bulls built their lead all the way up to 19. Pau Gasol was silky smooth from mid-range throughout, and even hit yet another corner three-pointer, which is always sweet. But then, Detroit went on an 11-0 run to bring Chicago's advantage down to eight (eventually to three). It was the kind of run (sensing a theme?) that probably could have been extinguished had Tom Thibodeau gone to his bench a little earlier. The starters were playing decently enough at the start of the quarter, but then once they stalled-out, Thibs didn't pull the plug. The Bulls went over four minutes without a field goal.
I mean, with the frontcourt intact, Pau playing entire first and third quarters can cease any time now. I know it won't, Thibs has done this all season long, but especially now that Niko is setting the league on fire I think that Thibs needs to adjust Pau's minutes. This isn't to rail on Pau, either. He played really well not only tonight, but has played well all season long. But Thibs putting Niko in at the 1:42 mark in the third quarter to replace Pau -- while, yes, is a start -- came about three minutes too late. In the context of this one game, what's the harm in pulling your starters against a bad Detroit team that caught fire? Worst thing that's gonna happen is Detroit stays hot, which they did, by finishing the quarter hitting 11 of their last 12 shots. What are ya gonna do? Can't help that. But perhaps going to the bench sooner would've made a difference.
So once we got to the fourth quarter in a dead heat against the Detroit freaking Pistons, I think most Bulls fans anticipated somewhat of a letdown coming after two emotionally satisfying blowout wins earlier this week against Indiana and Toronto. And that's exactly what happened. Well, maybe not a letdown. The Bulls just ran out of gas:
Pistons on 42-11 run since Bulls took largest lead at 19 points.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 22, 2015
The Bulls just didn't have it in the fourth quarter, no Niko Magic (or Dirk or Bird) to save them on this night. Tayshaun Prince did a really good job taking away post entry looks and also in individual defensive situations. Thibs actually had to yank the Niko/Noah combo which started the fourth quarter in favor of Pau and Taj. It was the right call, but the game was basically decided by the time Pau and Taj entered the game. Really, the Bulls just were shell-shocked and couldn't recover. Detroit finished the game on a 54-19 run, which is, just, wow. The Bulls basically scored six points in the final quarter if it were not for two meaningless buckets towards the end.
Just a weird game, but a very Bullsy game. Things looked great. They looked awesome. Then, all of a sudden, all the good feels went away and happy time was over. It's like every time we're about to embark on some newfound phase that the 2014-15 Bulls apparently refuse to reach, they slam back down to the Mendoza Line. Oh well. The offense collapsed and Detroit got red hot. That's just the way it goes sometimes. And I'm sure nobody will panic.