The Chicago Bulls played their final-ever game this evening in the Palace of Auburn Hills against the Detroit Pistons, and in sadly predictable fashion, they completely evaporated in the fourth quarter to fall 109-95. Both Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo did not play due to injuries, but Chicago certainly was within reach of victory before a 30-16 fourth quarter in favor of Detroit doomed the Bulls to their second consecutive loss.
The Bulls benefited early on in the game from an extremely anemic offensive performance by the Pistons out of the gate. Through the first six minutes of the game, Detroit shot 3-13 from the field, hit no threes, and made no trips to the freethrow line. Conversely, the Bulls played with great pace and aggression on offense, led by a noticibly-more-assertive-than-last-game Jimmy Butler and complimented by a sharp intial showing from Jerian Grant. The tandem combined for 11 points and five assists in the first quarter, including this bucket from Grant that saw him blow-by the entire Pistons’ defense:
Detroit continued to struggle to put the ball in the basket, and Chicago subsequently finished the first quarter with a 26-14 lead.
The Bulls emptied their bench for the majority of the initial six minutes of the second period, and as one can probably imagine, that didn’t go so well. That stretch at one point featured a Payne/MCW/Valentine/Mirotic/Felicio lineup that got promptly obliterated on defense, particularly by Aron Baynes (10 points on 5-5 shooting with five rebounds in the second quarter). Thankfully, the starters re-entered the game during the final six minutes of the half and somewhat restored order with Butler continuing to attack on offense, Grant continuing to facilitate well, and Robin Lopez taking and making his usual opportunistic shots. Unfortunately, the Pistons managed to put together a 10-4 mini-run over the last two minutes to cut the Bulls’ lead in half, and as a result both teams went to the locker room with a 55-51 halftime score in favor of Chicago.
After a first-half performance that nearly prompted Stan Van Gundy to rip out the remaining hair on his head, Reggie Jackson kicked off the second half in red-hot fashion by scoring eight points in the first two minutes to tie the game at 59 apiece. Neither team managed to get a run going from there on during the quarter, although the Bulls managed to do just enough to regain and hold a small lead until the final minute of the period. Fred Hoiberg elected to employ a Hack-a-Drummond strategy when both teams entered the bonus with about four minutes remaining, and Drummond responded by going 4-6 from the line. This would have been the difference between the Bulls entering the final quarter without instead of with a lead had Jimmy Butler not hit a pull up jumper on the period’s final possession to tie the game at 79-79.
The Bulls did their best first-quarter-Pistons impression to open the fourth, and actually played the role better than their counterparts did. They allowed the Pistons to go on a 12-2 run that lasted for the first six minutes of the final period to fall behind by ten points. That run would expand to a 23-9 run over the next three minutes, putting the Bulls down by fourteen points with precious little time remaining. It didn’t help that on top of not being able to buy a bucket, the Bulls looked completely disinterested in trying to get stops to get back in the game, letting Reggie Jackson go wherever and shoot whenever he wanted down the stretch. After scoring a mere two points in the first half, Jackson killed the Bulls for 24 points in the second half on 10-10 shooting from the field. The Bulls never pulled within single digits, and a humilating fourth quarter mercifully ended with the final score at 109-95 in favor of the Pistons.
Jimmy Butler was the lone bright spot in what was otherwise a miserable team effort from the Bulls. Butler finished with 27 points, nine rebounds and four assists while shooting 12-13 from the freethrow line in what was a nice return-to-form for him after a string of less-than-stellar games. Otherwise, the Bulls should be pretty ashamed for letting this one get away from them. The bench had one of their worst games of the season, combining for a mere 29 points, 14 of which came from Cameron Payne. Payne shot 4-9 from distance but shot 1-6 from everywhere else and wasted several offensive possessions for the Bulls. Denzel Valentine—whom looked forward to playing in his home state of Michigan—scored zero points in fifteen minutes and finished with a team low +/- rating of -16.
This was an ugly game for both teams that was well within reach for Chicago, and the team just let it get away from them in the fourth quarter. This is now the third time in four games that the Bulls have followed this narrative, with disgusting fourth quarter performances costing the team wins against the Nuggets and Clippers within the last week. The Bulls are now tied with the Pistons for the last seed in the Eastern Conference, with the Miami Heat breathing down the necks of both teams at just two games behind. Chicago will next battle the lottery-bound Orlando Magic down in Florida on Wednesday.