It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win and the Bulls’ 94-88 victory over the Pistons to open the 2021-22 season has them over .500 for the first time since March 2, 2017.
After all the talk about the Bulls boasting a potentially explosive offense while struggling on defense, it was that much-maligned defense that came up big as the offense outside of Zach LaVine couldn’t get much going. Going up against a limited Pistons team without No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham certainly helped matters for the defense, which did get taken advantage of down low at times, but their aggressiveness and activity made life difficult on Detroit. Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso continued to wreak havoc on that end after killing it in the preseason, and Patrick Williams got a key stop on Jerami Grant late to seal the game. The Bulls held the Pistons to 40.0% shooting, 6-of-28 shooting from 3 and turned 17 turnovers into 22 points.
Offensively, well, let’s just call it a work in progress. The Bulls scored only 14 points in the first quarter and 40 in the first half overall. LaVine finally really got them cooking in the third quarter by scoring 15 of his game-high 34 points (11-of-17 shooting) in the frame, but too often things were a slog and there were an incredible amount of missed shots at the rim. The officiating didn’t help the Bulls on a number of occasions on their drives and paint shots (Nikola Vucevic even picked up a T), but they also simply missed a bunch of bunnies around the basket. The Pistons are a young, athletic team that could give teams some problems with their length and activity, but this was still just ugly stuff. The Bulls got up to a mediocre 43.0% for the game after shooting 28.0% in the first quarter, and they only shot 7-of-23 from 3-point range (the lack of attempts is as notable as the poor percentage).
There were a few timely 3-pointers, though, including some from unlikely characters. Ayo Dosunmu played way more than I thought he would after Troy Brown Jr. was useless and picked up three fouls in four minutes, with the rookie even getting fourth-quarter minutes. It was a roller-coaster ride (one blown layup was real bad), but he knocked down a 3 in the fourth quarter to put the Bulls up four. After the Pistons responded with a 10-2 run, DeMar DeRozan hit a huge 3-pointer, which was then followed up by a Lonzo Ball 3-pointer to take the lead back. They never relinquished it again.
For most of crunch time before Williams made his big stop late, the Bulls turned to the expected lineup of Caruso, Ball, LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic, and it was a mixed bag. They locked in defensively, but the offense was a bit of a mess. There was too much DeRozan over LaVine for my liking, and that’s something that’s going to have to be figured out as the season goes along. DeRozan did hit one tough mid-ranger in the clutch and was brought in to take pressure of LaVine in those situations, but Zach will need to be more involved down the stretch. They’re going to have to strike a balance.
Ultimately, though, the Bulls got enough stops and LaVine iced the game at the charity stripe.
In addition to LaVine’s 34 points, DeRozan had 17 points on 8-of-17 shooting (he missed two free throws and got very little love from the refs) in an uneven showing. Vucevic really struggled with his shot to the tune of 15 points on 7-of-21 from the field and 1-of-4 from 3-point range, but he battled on the boards with 15 and did what he could defensively against an athletic Pistons bunch. Ball had 12/6/4 and was a game-high plus-17 in his 33 minutes, though he did commit a few careless turnovers that need to be cleaned up. The Bulls had 17 turnovers as a team to just 18 assists, and a few of the giveaways were just plain awful.
The bench scoring was a concern heading into the season, and that showed itself here. The Bulls’ bench managed just 10 points, with Ayo’s seven and Caruso’s one triple the only scoring production from there. Brown, Javonte Green and Alize Johnson all didn’t score and were basically zeroes on offense. We saw how the bench can be dynamic defensively, but the lineups with DeRozan and the bench weren’t pretty given the lack of scoring options and just shooting in general. This is where the Bulls miss Coby White, so he’s going to have an obvious role as a microwave gunner to help those units. It will also be interesting to see how Billy Donovan manages his staggering as the season goes on.
Again, this game wasn’t pretty, but the Bulls have tricked away a lot of games like that in recent years. They don’t deserve too much credit for beating a young Pistons team they’re clearly more talented than, but overcoming that adversity on the road to start the season is still a plus.
The Bulls’ next game is Friday against the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans at the United Center for the home opener.