The Bulls snapped a five-game losing streak by beating the Pistons 114-108 on Wednesday night, using a late surge at the end of the game to erase a mostly listless performance. One of the major factors in Chicago’s win was the advantage on free throws, with the Bulls going 31-of-35 from the charity stripe compared to just 13-of-17 for Detroit. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine combined to go 22-of-24 on freebies, including 8-of-9 in the fourth quarter.
This was especially notable given just how much the Bulls had been spanked at the line over the prior four games. In terms of attempts, they were outshot 26-15 by the Heat, 28-7 by the Hawks, 33-11 by the Bucks and 34-26 by the 76ers, though that Sixers game saw the margin narrow in a big way in the second half once DeRozan and LaVine started attacking more. Still, these discrepancies had the broadcast loudly complaining the last few games, with Stacey King even calling it a “joke” during the Pistons game before the Bulls started racking up their own massive advantage.
While those are certainly some notable discrepancies, I actually didn’t find myself complaining too much about the refs of late, and I’ll usually never hesitate to do so if it seems like the Bulls are getting jobbed. The Heat were clearly the aggressors in that blowout, while the Hawks, Bucks and Sixers all have notorious foul drawers. Yes, watching guys like Trae Young, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and James Harden parade to the line can be annoying, but they are good at drawing fouls and this bad Bulls defense fouls a lot.
As for the Bulls not drawing fouls, they don’t really have anybody outside of DeRozan and LaVine who get to the line on a regular basis. Even with DeRozan ranking fifth individually, Chicago is 19th in free-throw attempts per game and ranks toward the bottom of the NBA in drives per game. Those drive numbers were down even lower over this recent rough stretch. The Bulls’ broadcast was insisting they were driving a lot to the basket, and while there were surely some calls missed (I don’t have the time to go back and review every single shot attempt), the numbers show they weren’t driving that much. They also don’t score many points in the paint (45.5 per game, 19th), but they did pour in 60 against the Pistons to go with those 31 free throws. Making it a point to attack a Detroit team lacking a rim protector was key, and it’s also worth noting that the Heat, Hawks, Bucks and Sixers all do have credible rim-protection threats to deter attempts in the paint.
Looking at DeRozan and LaVine, in a few of these games they also simply didn’t attack the basket much. DeRozan took five out of 20 shots in the paint against the Hawks, with just two at the rim. LaVine took just two shots at the rim in that game. They were more aggressive against the Bucks, with DeRozan taking 10 shots out of 30 in the paint and LaVine with eight out of 26, but they didn’t get the benefit of the doubt much in that game against the defending champs. We do know that DeRozan draws a lot of fouls on jumpers, which happened multiple times against Detroit. LaVine also drew a 3-point foul in the Pistons win.
Still, and especially in the case of LaVine, it was nice to see all those free throws against Detroit when the jumpers weren’t falling. LaVine went 1-of-7 from 3 and missed his one mid-range attempt but still scored 25 points because he went 6-of-6 at the rim and 10-of-11 at the line. He may be more hesitant at times to drive a lot because of that bum knee, but good things often happen when he attacks. Getting those free points is a big plus, and it played a key role in a much-needed win.