Bulls edge Pistons for 18th straight win in series
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com March 31, 2013 9:00PM
Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler had 16 points and five steals Sunday against Detroit. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: May 2, 2013 6:39AM
Four days after ending the Miami Heat’s 27-game winning streak, the Bulls had to reach even deeper to beat the lowly Detroit Pistons on Sunday night. The Derrick Rose-less Bulls are capable of anything.
Falling behind by 13 points in the first quarter and still down six in the fourth, the Bulls won almost out of habit. Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Nate Robinson sparked a fourth-quarter rally as the Bulls beat the Pistons for the 18th consecutive time, 95-94 before a sellout crowd of 21,864 at the United Center.
The Pistons (24-50) came in with 12 losses in 13 games and only one victory over a winning team since Jan. 20 — and that was against the Tim Duncan/Manu Ginobili-less San Antonio Spurs. But coming off a disheartening road loss Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks, winning in any manner was a step in the right direction.
‘‘I was concerned about this game coming in,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘Coming off [Saturday’s loss], back-to-back, early start tonight. We dodged a bullet. We were fortunate. We got out of a hole. Defensively, it was better in the second half. But we’ve got to clean that up. We were just trying to find a way in the end.’’
The Bulls (40-32) again were without Joakim Noah, Marco Belinelli, Richard Hamilton and Rose. Noah, in particular, was missed against the Pistons — he has averaged 19.7 points and 17.5 rebounds in the last four victories over Detroit, including 30 points and 23 rebounds in a four-point victory on Dec. 7.
The Bulls were outrebounded 45-37 as 6-11 Greg Monroe (18 points, 10 rebounds) and 6-10 Andre Drummond (eight points, 14 rebounds) outplayed Nazr Mohammed (no points, four rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (11 points, seven rebounds) in the paint.
Without Noah, the Bulls struggled most of the game before imposing their will in the fourth quarter with a hustle effort led by Deng (28 points on 7-for-18 shooting, nine rebounds), Butler (16 points, five steals), Gibson (11 points, three blocks) and Robinson (16 points, two steals, three assists) to pull it out. And Daequan Cook added 10 points, with a big rebound and free throw in the final five seconds that clinched it.
‘‘That’s tough when you’re playing against a team like that, just freelancing,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘They’ve got young guys. Young legs, coming out jumping around and playing tough. It was real tough. Against those teams, we’ve got to find a way to win. I’m happy to get this win.’’
Deng and Robinson typified the effort in the fourth quarter with back-to-back three-pointers to give the Bulls a 91-84 lead with 3:52 left. Robinson hustled for his three — he had missed a floater but came from behind to steal the ball from Charlie Villanueva to get another chance, then immediately buried the three.
‘‘I thought [the difference] was the hustle plays,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Jimmy made a couple. Lu made a big shot. Nate had a big hustle play stealing the ball from behind. Taj had a big multiple-effort game. Daequan gave us big minutes. Right now, we need everybody.’’