Going in, I felt like this game was the worst sort of trap.
First, with one more loss, the Pistons would be officially eliminated from the playoffs. Sure, we all knew that was a foregone conclusion, and they did, too. Still, teams tend to bring it in elimination games.
Second, Dennis Rodman had his jersey retired in one of those “turn back the clock and remember the good times” ceremonies. Rodman and several other member of those “Bad Boys” Pistons teams were on hand, including ringleader Isiah Thomas. These kinds of ceremonies can really inspire the home team.
Sure enough, after falling behind by as many as 15 points, the Pistons came to life in the second half and made a game of it. The game wasn’t secure until Derrick Rose knocked down a couple free throws with five seconds left to seal the win. A win that put them three games ahead of the Boston Celtics and 2.5 games up on the Miami Heat in the race for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Still…struggling to a win against a bad team leaves a bad taste.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau — who was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for March — said: “I take a win any day. Any way we can get it, I’m taking the win. It’s fool’s gold, too. We got to make the corrections. If we don’t defend … the three things we always look at, particularly on the road, is the defense, the rebounding and the turnovers. We didn’t rebound well, we didn’t defend well and we turned the ball over.”
Thibs has a point. Three of them, actually. The Bulls allowed the Pistons to shoot 52 percent, got outrebounded 37-32 and gave up 19 points off 16 turnovers while once again playing without Joakim Noah, who was out with an ankle sprain.
Carlos Boozer had his second straight strong game with 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. He looked particularly animated while posting up and going for rebounds, like maybe he had a little extra zip in his step. Maybe he really does enjoy the extra spacing he has when Jo’s not on the court. Or maybe he’s just finally over that sprained ankle.
Derrick Rose — who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for March — had a Derrick Rose-y type of game with 27 points, 7 assists, 4 steals and a rebound. He came out of the gates really strong, exploding for 13 points, 3 assists and 3 steals in the first quarter. He also made a great assist to Ronnie Brewer (and Brewer made an equally fantastic finish for the layup) with 34 seconds left to put the Bulls up 97-91. Rose was credited with a turnover with 12 seconds left while the Pistons were trying to foul him. It sure looked like there was uncalled contact, but whatever.
By the way, there’s no need to worry about that apparent ankle sprain Rose suffered in the third quarter. Said Rose: “It’s fine. I don’t feel it right now. Usually when guards do it, you bounce right back. With big men, that’s a bad injury for them. At first it was [scary]. But my will to play got me back in that game.”
The Bulls got another strong effort from the Bench Mob, who combined for 25 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. And even though he went 1-for-7, Kyle Korver made a key play down the stretch.
With the Bulls clinging to a four-point led with just over a minute to go, Korver bricked a three but Kurt Thomas grabbed the offensive rebound. The ball ended up back in Korver’s hands. He drove, drew the defense and hit Big Sexy for a 19-footer that was nothing but net. It was a really sweet play and went a long way to represent the kind of unselfish play that has characterized this season.
A season in which the Bulls could end up with the number one seed in their conference. Heck, with the way the Spurs are struggling, maybe even the best record in the league. Not that the Bulls are focusing on that.
Said Boozer: “We’re not thinking about nobody else but ourselves, to be honest. It sounds selfish, but it’s true. We’ve got to focus on us, getting healthy and getting Joakim [Noah] back. Be playing our best basketball and tighten up our screws on offense and defense and get ready for the playoffs. Each day we’re trying to get better. We’re not worried about other teams in our conference. Or teams in other conferences. We want to have as many wins as we can this season and we want to get as sharp as we can for the playoffs.”
Added Rose: “It might sound crazy, but I’m just worried about over here. Our destiny’s in our hand and we’re just trying to finish the season strong and win every game.”
I hope the winning continues tonight against the Raptors.