Pitched as a battle of the last two teams to beat the Miami Heat, the Bulls came out a clear second-best to the Detroit Pistons who won their first game at the United Center since 2006, 92-75.
Even saying second-best feels too much, it almost implies the Bulls competed. After a disjointed, sloppy and far from enthralling first half that ended all tied at 47, Detroit came out of the blocks flying in the third quarter, outscoring the Bulls 22-9 as Chicago decided to forgo scoring in what proved to be a fatal offensive drought.
With Taj Gibson and Tony Snell playing 42 minutes each and Kirk Hinrich 36, it was perhaps unsurprisingly there was no wind left in the sails for a fourth-quarter surge. The Bulls bench ran just three men deep thanks to the injuries to Deng, Butler, Rose and Mike James. With Nazr Mohammed seeing just six minutes on the court the starters were gasping for air by the end of that brutal third quarter.
The Pistons lead grew to 17 before a Hinrich three and two of Gibson’s 21 points cut the deficit to 12. After going up by double-digits, the Pistons lead would not drop to single digits for the rest of the game.
Gibson was the lone bright spot for the Bulls tonight, putting up 21 points and 10 rebounds for his third 20-point game in the last five, as he was pressed into a starting spot with Luol Deng sidelined with a calf injury.
That meant Chicago opening with a big lineup with Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah in a tall frontcourt aimed at slowing the Pistons’ trio of big men.
The plan seemed to be working early as Josh Smith was rendered a non-factor first forced to guard the much larger Taj Gibson before being made to chase Mike Dunleavy Jr. through screens and around the perimeter. He would finish with just seven points on 2-11 shooting and 5 turnovers.
Though he would be far from the worst performer on the night. Aside from Gibson, the Bulls other four starters combined for 9-45 from the field. Kirk Hinrich was at one stage 0-7 from the field and finished 1-10 with one made three pointer with the game effectively over as a contest.
Carlos Boozer fired in 11 quick points in the first six minutes of the game as he and Gibson combined for the Bulls first 17 points. Boozer would finish the game with 13 points on 16 shots after starting the night 3-5.
Noah also found it tough to score over the length of Detroit, held to a single field goal by Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.
Aside from Gibson, Marquis Teague was the only other Bull to come out of this hideous performance with any semblance of respect. He added 10 points from the bench on 4-8 shooting and continually got to the rim and either scoring or creating second-chance opportunities by forcing the defense to react. This game was easily Teague’s most complete as a Bull as to go with his 10 points he had 3 rebounds and 3 assists combined with zero turnovers.
The Bulls will at least get a chance to rebound quickly with two of their next three games coming against the Milwaukee Bucks, sandwiching a trip to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks.