Now they're blowing out teams as Bulls dominate Detroit


Jan 12

It turns out that may have been the problem all season for the Bulls with the questions about Vinny Del Negro’s coaching status, Tyrus Thomas’ commitment, John Salmons’ position, Luol’s Deng’s role, the playing rotation, minutes, offense and depth.

The Bulls just needed to make shots.

Why didn’t someone think of that?

And, oh did they make them Monday in by far their best offensive effort of the season, an almost perfect 120-87 blowout victory over the Detroit Pistons in which the Bulls shot a season best 57.1 percent in setting a season high in scoring for the third time in the last four games led by Luol Deng with 27 points and Derrick Rose with 22. Combined, the duo made 24 of 31 shots.

“A lot of shots went in tonight,” agreed not so beleaguered coach Vinny Del Negro. “Our ball movement was good and our aggressiveness was good. It was another solid team effort. Luol came out aggressive and Derrick’s jumper looked good. We shot a high percentage and caught Detroit (13th consecutive loss) at a good time. We have Tyrus and Kirk (Hinrich) back and we’ve had some practice time together. Guys know their role off the bench because we have our rotation set with guys helping. And the schedule has been more in our favor. There’s no easy game for us, but I like the way everyone has contributed. I like the way Derrick is running the team and the way Kirk provides thrust for us. Joakim (Noah with 16 points and 11 rebounds) again was fantastic with his energy. We’re just in a good state right now.”

A state of bliss as no one has seen a Bulls team like this all season.

Rose finished with 11 of 13 and had such a beautiful trajectory to his shot you thought you were seeing Ray Allen. Deng, improving from his left hand injury, was almost equally unerring with more crescent shaped arc from his often flat shot. Balls were dropping through like rocks down a well.

“The shot felt good tonight,” said Deng. “I had a better rhythm from the start of the game and we moved the ball well.”

Noah ran Ben Wallace, with just two rebounds, out of the game after 18 minutes, beating him to loose balls and keeping him off the offensive boards. John Salmons, starting to make threes, hit four of six and now is 11 of 18 on threes for the last four games, a whopping 61.1 percent.

“The shot felt good,” said the laconic Salmons. “I had some open looks and knocked them down.”

I followed that and asked Salmons—though I shouldn’t have after a game like this—about the team fitting into roles with his off the bench averaging 15 points on 55 percent shooting the last four games.

Salmons stared at me a bit and said, “I guess.”

Though that is fairly expansive for him at times.

Tyrus Thomas, before he got poked in the eye and had a quiet second half, was all over the place, eventually ending with a career high six steals, and Jannero Pargo finally got into the act and squeezed off 10 shots in 18 minutes.

“It feels good for once knowing we got a blowout,” said Rose.

Yes, this time it was the Bulls time, a rarity this season, to empty the bench just about the entire fourth quarter and let the questions be asked of their opponent, who had former Bull Ben Gordon playing just six minutes with a groin strain.

“Not much to say,” offered Gordon. “We just have to work ourselves out of this. There is still plenty of basketball left. I’m still optimistic that once everybody gets healthy, we’ll start to play the way we know we can and turn this around.”

The Pistons fell to 11-25 while the Bulls are 16-20 and now eighth in the Eastern Conference and a half game behind Charlotte for seventh.

I happened to be talking to Darrell Walker before the game. He’s a Pistons assistant now after being an assistant with the Hornets and coaching the Raptors. The Chicago product was watching the Bulls players warm up and said, “I like that roster they have there. They’ve got some nice pieces.”

It hasn’t looked like that often this season, and likely it’s too early to suggest there’s been some great turnaround at four games under .500. And, as Del Negro appropriately pointed out, they haven’t been facing the Murderer’s Row of the NBA. Perhaps they’ll have a better idea after the two week Western Conference trip that starts in Golden State Monday.

Shooting like the Bulls did Monday is an aberration, including 42 percent on threes to 18 percent for the Pistons.

But there definitely are signs after the team scored more than 100 points once in the first 18 games. The Bulls have scored more than 100 in five of the last eight games and are averaging 103.8 in that stretch, which includes the 85-point stinker against the Thunder.

“I hope (we turned a corner),” said Deng. “We got everybody back. We’re just trying to get a rhythm, trying to see everyone see their role and once we get that down we’ll keep getting better.”

It wasn’t a particularly brilliant start for the Bulls, though you could see right away Deng’s shot shaped better and Rose’s was to die for.

“I was shooting the ball,” said Rose. “They were shots I used to take and today I was hitting the majority of them. A couple of them felt real good, so I knew I was going to keep on shooting. You’re not going to pass up shots like that and it helped us tonight.”

Rose came to the NBA with the reputation as a non shooter, and I never thought he was a poor shooter. Perhaps he did everything else so well you had to find something. He still doesn’t seem to have long range as he rarely shoots threes. But he is getting to be almost automatic when he drives in and heads for the left elbow and shoots that jumper.

He came out looking more for his shot Monday, and the way he was shooting I would have gone to him more, though the Bulls tend not to do that.

I was thinking of the late coach Chuck Daly with the Pistons in town, one of the best guys ever in the NBA. Chuck wasn’t some great strategic coach, but he knew people, knew how to motivate and got players to compete, which is the real secret to coaching, and he knew you ride a hot hand.

Daly’s great Pistons teams did that as well as anyone, and I wanted to see that Monday from Rose. But Rose also gives up the ball when he can as a point guard and had four assists as the Bulls led 28-25 after one.

The second quarter became a blur of Bulls baskets and the kind of burst of enthusiasm and energy from Tyrus Thomas that turns around a game.

I’ve written regularly the last week or so of Good Tyrus and Bad Tyrus, and when Good Tyrus is out there the Bulls can be a pretty tough team.

He was back Monday after a week or so hiatus with the Bad Tyrus in his stead to the point Del Negro yanked him late in Saturday’s win over Minnesota for bad shots and turnovers so egregious you thought he was doing it on purpose.

Thomas was simply fabulous and dominated the second quarter without scoring much, sort of like Jason Kidd could do and you see lately from Rajon Rondo, whom the Bulls face Thursday in Boston on national TNT.

Thomas blocked a Jonas Jerebko put back to open the quarter, laid out five feet out of bounds to save a Pargo miss, made a steal from Austin Daye and ran the court and finished for a three-point play. Thomas then slammed a nice interior pass from Brad Miller, this all in the first two minutes as the Bulls went ahead 37-29.

It was becoming contagious. Normally passive rookie James Johnson fought inside for his own miss, held his position and scored. Noah ran out on a missed Detroit free throw and slammed, and then after Rose threw in a teardrop, Thomas took the ball from Rodney Stuckey, ran out and finished with a lob pass from Rose and slam dunk.

Make that 45-32 Bulls, and the Pistons would never get the game back inside double figures.

No, there was to be no Sacramento style meltdown collapse, though that question must be asked now every time the Bulls have a big lead.

“I think we’re a different team than we were back then,” said Del Negro, who laughed at the suggestion. “That was the perfect storm that hit us. It was just one game. That was unfortunate. Our guys have bounced back well from there. Can’t look behind. I look forward. I’m more optimistic than pessimistic, looking forward is the way we want to go.”

Give that to Del Negro. He never, ever gets cranky like most coaches with annoying questions intended to provoke a negative response.

The Pistons went into a zone late in the second and Deng shot two pretty parabolas (how about that alliteration tonight?) to end that quickly.

With Deng closing the quarter with a three (Deng is actually 40 percent on the season on threes), the Bulls led 61-47 behind Deng’s 17 points.

Thomas got poked in the eye midway through the second quarter after still another steal, this time from Richard Hamilton, who led Detroit with 17. Thomas quickly left the game with seven points, three steals, two offensive rebounds and a block in a scintillating five minute performance that effectively broke open the game.

When he plays like that…

I know, I know. If only…

“We’re happy with the way we’re playing,” said Deng. “We have to try to avoid that losing. That’s where Detroit is now. Once you lose you seem to keep losing. You’ve got to get out of it.”

No third quarter collapse this time as the Bulls came out firing again as Salmons hit a pair of threes.

“We haven’t had many of those (blowout wins),” said Salmons. “We know what can happen if we let up. It was good we kept the lead. We got an easy one.”

The Bulls scored on their first eight possessions of the quarter and 14 of the first 15 in hitting 12 of their first 14 field goal attempts to get a 30-point lead with 3:26 left in the third. The 36 third quarter points was a season high for a quarter as the Bulls shot 71 percent.

The loud p.a. announcer in Detroit has become known for his spread out “Dee-troit Bas-ket-ball” call when the Pistons made a defensive play. Unfortunately for the Pistons, this has become Detroit basketball.

“It’s a tough league. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you,” said Hinrich. “It’s unfortunate what they’re going through. I haven’t even thought about it.”

No, because it had been the Bulls before. It’s not that much, but it is six of nine now.

It was so giddy in the United Center Monday that former Bull Luc Longley, visiting the U.S. from his home in Australia where he mostly tends to a huge ranch and business interests, was sitting courtside and enthusiastically applauding, though mostly when the fat men dancers, the Matadors, were going through one of their timeout routines.

Luc did know how to have a good time even if he didn’t always know talent.

It was party time, as Bill Murray declared in Stripes.

You know I only quote the classics.

And this one for the Bulls was a classic.

They had 29 assists with Hinrich adding another five in just 17 foul-plagued minutes as his ball movement with Rose has quietly been something of a turning point for the offense.

“We’re sharing the ball,” said Hinrich. “When you do that your shooting percentage goes up and you score more points. Guys are making more shots, but I think it’s the result of how we’re playing.”

The Bulls had a season high 21 fast break points. The starters shot 68 percent. The bench scored 42 points. Ben Wallace, No. 2 in the league in number of offensive rebounds, had none. The Pistons other big free agent signee with Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, was one of 10. He and Gordon combined for four points in 28 minutes. The Bulls had a 37-point lead with 7:11 left when they put in Johnson, Pargo, Lindsey Hunter and Aaron Gray.

“Everyone contributed and it was good to have a game where everyone had some minutes,” said Del Negro.

“It was a solid team effort and we’ll continue to try to build on that.”

But it doesn’t get much higher than that.

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