Playoff Bound Bulls beat Pistons; Avoid Cavs


Apr 14

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Do you believe! Let me hear you. Do you believe?

“It was a big win,” said Ben Gordon, whose driving score with 14.6 seconds left was the winner in a 91-88 victory over the Detroit Pistons Monday. “I’m really proud of the way the team played and showed a lot of resilience. Guys were getting techs and everything like that and we still played through the adversity. It was our goal to improve our (playoff) seeding and not get caught up (playing) Cleveland. Guys are starting to realize anytime we’re on the floor we have a chance to win. Guys are showing that we’re not giving up. We pursue the game no matter what it looks like. We knew it would be a close game that would come down to who made the most plays at the end.”

And it was the Bulls, who trailed by six with about six minutes left, closing the game behind Derrick Rose and Gordon with a 12-4 stretch in a hostile environment and physical game that saw Brad Miller ejected and Tyrus Thomas with a flagrant foul. This time the Bulls were the Bad Boys, and it was the Pistons who withered at the end.

“Everyone probably thought the game as over except for probably us and some fans at home,” said Rose, who led the Bulls with 24 points and eight assists and three consecutive huge scores after the Pistons took that last six point lead. “We made huge plays at the end.

“It was Detroit and I remembered how they used to beat up on Michael (Jordan),” said Rose, who was unusually demonstrative and yelling in the direction of the Pistons bench on a three-point play that tied the game with 42.9 seconds left. “I’m not trying to put myself in Michael’s shoes, but it means a lot knowing everyone is keying in on their role now and doing anything to win.”

It wasn’t a game between two top contenders like it was here in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s between the Bulls and Pistons. But it had the same kind of emotion and aggression, similar frustrations and bruises as Gordon was still shaking off the effects of the nasty blow to the groin he sustained—and without a foul call—on that winning score.

Though there were significant stakes in the playoff pot.

That’s because with the road win, the Bulls now have won five straight overall and 12 of 15. Perhaps as significantly, the Bulls, 41-40 and sixth in the East, now cannot open the playoffs against the top rated Cleveland Cavaliers. Depending on what the Philadelphia 76ers do in their last two games against Boston and Cleveland, the Bulls either open the playoffs in Boston against the Celtics, who now had to shut down Kevin Garnett for the rest of the regular season with knee problems, or in Orlando, where the stumbling Magic has lost three straight to non playoff teams and five of eight.

“It’s all about playing your best basketball at the right time,” said Joakim Noah, who had 11 points and battled Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess and grabbed a game high 13 rebounds. “That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re in a situation where people don’t think we can win on the road (13-28), but we’re winning against an opponent like that in a big game like this for playoff seeding. It’s good for our swagger.”

Maybe the Bulls should begin to whisper it so their opponents don’t realize it. It’s beginning to look like they believe as well.

Because this was the kind of game this Bulls team was supposed to lose. The one that stumbled nine below .500 a few months back with questions about everyone. It’s obviously been a different team since the trades for Miller and John Salmons, but still a team that didn’t compete on the road with seven straight road losses after the trade and nine of 12 road losses overall since the February deals.

“Everyone talked about us not winning on the road since the trades,” said Miller. “So to be able to win in Detroit is huge for confidence with the confidence we have at home and hopefully we can carry it into the playoffs.

“It was a big one for us and definitely guarantees no Cleveland for us in the first round,” said Miller. “We know with them 39-1 at home it would be tough to go into that series. So this puts us in a better situation in the playoffs. We still know we aren’t set, but now we’re not the eight seed.”

Though it looked like the Bulls would be.

Against this Detroit team, which now will open the playoffs in Cleveland, the Bulls needed to push the ball and speed up the pace, and they did early in a 31-31 first quarter.

The Pistons, who like to milk matchups, had Richard Hamilton going at Gordon, and Hamilton had 14 in the first quarter. Gordon countered with 11.

The Pistons looked like they’d outmaneuvered the Bulls late in the second quarter when they came out of a timeout in a zone defense, and the Bulls froze, firing off four long jumpers and a wild Tyrus Thomas shot that missed the rim.

That sequence enabled the Pistons to go on a 10-2 run and take a 56-48 lead at halftime and shoot 51.1 percent. Though that would sink markedly after halftime as Detroit was 11-40 in the second half. Yes, Bulls defense. And in Detroit. B-ulls Bas-ket-ball!

Detroit maintained that six to eight-point margin much of the third quarter—11 early in the period—as the Bulls appeared about to become unglued in the face of Detroit’s aggressive play.

After Tyrus Thomas thought he was fouled on a shot by Antonio McDyess, Tyrus ran down Hamilton from behind in frustration for a flagrant foul. A clip should have been called. Yeah, it was the Bulls giving it back as well.

“It’s always physical when we come in here,” said Tyrus, who had 13 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and five fouls. “It’s something that got started way before any of us got here. I honestly don’t think it was flagrant. I talked to Rip afterward. We’re cool. It was a hard foul.”

Rip? No, it wasn’t Rest in Peace Bulls by any means.

The Bulls trailed 75-69 heading into the fourth quarter, and they just couldn’t seem to make up the margin, trading scores as Miller offered much of his repertoire with a jumper when the Pistons trapped Rose, as they were doing all quarter, running the middle and taking a pass from Rose for a score and hitting a three when no one came out. Still, that left the Bulls trailing 85-79 with 5:58 left as Miller picked up the first of his two quick technical fouls with a foul on Hamilton and some choice words.

“Detroit is going to play a physical game,” said Miller. “You just get frustrated being smacked around and them not getting the same. I got about six in the head and it gets frustrating.”

It also was getting frustrating for Rose, though he tends to show it in a different way.

It was beginning to look like a loss, and that is what makes the kid most angry. He takes his share of shots without foul calls. It’s the losses that make him boil.

So he said, in effect, not this time.

“I told the team that we had to keep on fighting throughout the whole game,” said Rose. “I didn’t ever give up, the team didn’t ever give up and we kept on playing hard. We kept trying to go to the line and getting fouls on them and attacking. In the fourth, I was just trying to win and get my teammates open to score. Whatever it takes to win, I’ll do it.”

I know we’ve said it before, but this guy is remarkable, especially in his ability to make big plays down the stretch and save games. Yes, Gordon made the big final shot, and that’s what he does better than anyone on the team. It’s Rose who gets you there.

This one was over without his refusal to lose.

First he drove for a score, and then after a Tayshaun Prince turnover, Rose ran out with Rodney Stuckey almost riding him like Rose had a saddle on. Yet, Rose, with an amazingly strong upper body, didn’t flinch and blew win before Wallace could react. That brought the Bulls within 85-83 with 4:51 left.

“They gutted it out there in the fourth quarter,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro of his players. “The defense picked up, we made shots and made plays down the stretch. It was going to be physical. You got to get used to that. You’re not going to get calls. You got to go in there and be physical, get into bodies, and defensively you got to get contact and you got to fight through those things.”

Wallace came back with a 16 footer for an 87-83 lead, but Rose went again and was fouled, making both to bring the Bulls back within two with 4:08 left.

It was becoming angry then with the stakes rising. Tyrus blocked a Stuckey shot helping as Stuckey beat Rose. But Tyrus undercut McDyess coming down for a foul, bodies spread all over the court and guys getting up slowly like it was a nine count. John Salmons missed a 20 footer as he was off all game, and then Stuckey drew a foul and made one for an 88-85 Pistons lead with 2:43 left.

Miller then was caught in the high post without much movement and Wallace banging him relentlessly until Miller, elbows flying with Wallace now complaining about Miller’s elbows, made a move and was called for traveling and lost it. The ball, too.

“He (Hamilton) missed the free throw, thank goodness,” said Miller in a light locker room.

Salmons was sitting beside Miller and agreed he’d never quite seen Miller like that in Sacramento while Tyrus next to Salmons had come out of the shower and was noticing some cheap cologne on someone and demanding to find out who. The kids deserved to have some fun.

“These young guys are getting better,” said Miller. “Being able to win like this in Detroit is big for them.”

Told the Pistons didn’t score after he was ejected at that point, Miller quipped, “See, we got some calls.”

Hamilton, who led Detroit with 25, then lost the ball, but Gordon and Salmons missed threes around a McDyess inside miss. Then it was Rose’s time.

He blew out of the backcourt, down the middle, cutting left like a wide receiver and going hard past Wallace for the score and foul, screaming in the direction of the Pistons bench after the score and making the free throw, making it tied at 88 with 42.9 seconds left.

“It was a huge play,” said Rose, who scored nine straight Bulls points in that stretch.

“Derrick has learned a lot through the year and the experience from the (NCAA) tournament last year and it’s starting to help,” said Miller. “In the playoffs, you’ve got to have a guy who can create his own shot at any given time and he’s doing it and getting a lot better at it.”

The Pistons then had Stuckey supposed to turn the corner and find Wallace or Hamilton in the corners. But the Bulls boxed in McDyess, who couldn’t slip the screen. So with the play broken down by the Bulls defense, Stuckey pulled up for a jumper, which Rose then blocked.

Gordon then hit the winning drive, getting knocked down and kneed in the groin in the process.

“When I came off the dribble handoff, they stayed and doubled for a while,” Gordon said. “I backed it up to see what the defense would do. They switched a big on me. I didn’t want to settle for a jumper. I wanted to attack the rim.”

It was perhaps appropriate that Gordon hit the last big one here as the rumor with the Pistons is with their huge salary cap space this summer they intend to pursue Gordon and a big man, perhaps one from the Utah Jazz among Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur. Though the Pistons have Stuckey and Hamilton, they are said to covet Gordon for a three guard set and a repeat of the championship backcourt with Vinny Johnson.

Detroit reporters asked Del Negro about Gordon before the game, and Del Negro said, “He’s a scorer and you have to guard him. He makes big shots. He’s great to coach. He’s professional. He goes about his business all season. He’s been tremendous for us, his personality, his demeanor. All those (free agency) things take care of themselves. He knows if he goes out there and plays well and plays hard and we have success, the opportunities will be abundant for him. He’s been fantastic on and off the court. He’s a professional.”

Asked about Detroit, Gordon, just named Eastern Conference player of the week, said: “I don’t have much to say. I want to continue to focus on basketball. We’re playing now and I’ll worry about that in the offseason.”

Back to the close, Wallace then barely grazed the front of the rim on a three as the Bulls again smothered the inside. McDyess rebounded, but unnecessarily rushed a bad miss. Rose rebounded and was fouled and made one of two with 2.9 seconds left. But it was Detroit with the rookie mistake, out of timeouts and having to force a desperation heave as the Bulls took the deep breath of satisfaction and headed home for the season finale Wednesday against Toronto.

Could it be? This team? These guys?

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