One day after a gut-wrenching come-from-ahead loss in Dallas, the Bulls flipped the script and pulled out a come-from-behind home win over the Pistons. Of course, the quality of competition was a bit different, given that the Mavericks are making a surge for the playoffs. All the Pistons (24-50) have to look forward to is the NBA draft lottery.
The Bulls have now won 18 consecutive games against their one-time rival. Detroit is stuck being the Washington Generals to Chicago’s Harlem Globetrotters. Not that the Pistons conceded this game.
Far from it.
The Pistons burst out of the gates with fire in their eyes and had the Bulls down 14-2 less than four minutes into the game. Chicago was missing field goals, bricking free throws and turning the ball over while the Pistons were calmly executing their offense and knocking down wide-open shots.
So much for a gimmie game against a bad team.
The Bulls fought back to within 24-20 by the end of the first quarter, but the the second and third quarters followed the same disturbing pattern as the first. The Pistons would extend their lead, the Bulls would cut into it, then the Pistons would extend their lead again, and the Bulls could cut into it again.
Then Luol Deng happened.
Maybe he was inspired by watching Dirk Nowtizki’s clutch performance against his team on Saturday, or maybe the loss was inspiration enough, but Deng scored Chicago’s first eight points of the fourth quarter. That stretch included a play in which Deng missed a layup, sneaked around a couple Pistons to steal the offensive rebound, and hit a follow-up shot while getting fouled.
Pure will power.
After three free throws by Taj Gibson and an 18-footer by Nate Robinson helped finally push the Bulls ahead, Deng orchestrated another huge sequence. First, Deng followed a Jimmy Butler steal by splashing home a three-pointer to put the Bulls up 88-84. Two possessions later, Deng assisted Robinson on a triple that pushed the lead to 91-84 with 3:55 left.
To be honest, I kind of thought that was the game, but these Bulls never do things the easy way.
The Pistons sandwiched a layup by Greg Monroe and a three-pointer by Rodney Stuckey around a missed three by Deng to quickly pull back to within 91-89.
Deng responded with a strong drive that drew a foul, but unfortunately Lu only connected on one of his foul shots. In some ways, that was the story of this game, as the Bulls earned a season-high 40 free throw attempts but missed 13 of them. Had they been able to make the most of their freebies, this game might not have gone down to the wire.
Then again, if wishes were fishes, the world would be an ocean.
After the teams exchanged misses, Stuckey made a layup that again cut the lead to a single point (92-91) with 1:27 remaining. But it was Deng to the rescue again. After running down the shot clock, Robinson drove in for a layup that missed, but Deng was there to corral the rebound and laid it in for a 94-91 lead that effectively sealed the game. The teams exchanged some misses, Daequon Cook hit a free throw, and Stucky drilled a meaningless three-pointer as time expired to make the final score 95-94…but Deng’s put back was the capper.
Deng finished with 28 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. Jimmy Butler — once again starting in place of Marco Belinelli — had 16 points, 5 steals, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 blocked shot. The Bulls also got strong contributions off the bench from Robinson (16 points, 3 assists, 2 steals), Taj Gibson (11 points, 4 boards, 3 blocks) and Cook (10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists).
This was one of those games where all you can do is take a deep breath and be grateful for the comeback.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “We dodged a bullet. We were fortunate, got out of a hole. … We were just trying to find a way in the end. I thought it was the hustle plays.”
As usual, the bullet was dodged with several men down. The Bulls were again without Derrick Rose (left knee rehab), Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain) and Rip Hamilton (lower back spasms). Despite the lack of warm bodies, despite shooting 39 percent and losing the rebounding battle 45-37, despite the awful performance at the free throw line, the Bulls still managed to pull out a gritty win.
Said Gibson: “Because we believe in each other. And we’ve got guys that could be starters anywhere else. But they’re just humble and they understand what they have to do and nobody’s pointing fingers. Nobody’s like, ‘It’s all about me.’ It’s all about the team, really, and that’s how we’re playing. And we understand that we’re playing for something great. We’ve got a great chance to do something special this year, and we just keep playing.”
An utterly fitting description of the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls.