Pistons no longer Bulls’ punching bag in 99-85 win
BY JOE COWLEY email@example.com April 7, 2013 9:08PM
Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey, top, and Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) scramble for a loose ball in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, April 7, 2013, in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Updated: April 7, 2013 11:02PM
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — In a season filled with uncertainty, there was always the Detroit Pistons.
A 42-point loss in Sacramento, a late-February loss to Cleveland at the United Center and two losses in the nation’s capital demonstrated that the Bulls, for the first time under coach Tom Thibodeau’s watch, are capable of down nights.
But not against the Pistons. The Bulls had won 18 in a row against their division rivals before that streak came to a crashing halt with a 99-85 loss Sunday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Second-year guard Brandon Knight led the Pistons with 20 points.
“You have to play 48 minutes,’’ Thibodeau said. “We were very flat. We made it an offensive game from the start. You’re not going to win like that.’’
The loss to the Pistons showed that the Bulls will have a hard time winning without All-Star forward Luol Deng, who missed the game with a sore right hip. Thibodeau said his absence was felt on both sides of the ball.
“People say [Deng is] struggling. Struggling where?’’ Thibodeau said. “Look at what he’s done the last 10 games. He’s playing great, and our team was playing great. You don’t measure that guy by his stats. You measure him by what he brings to winning and the toughness and intangibles and leadership he brings to the team.
“Sometimes we all tend to overlook that, and you can’t. That’s what that guy brings. When he’s out, we need other people step up and do those things.’’
The Bulls had hoped the returns of Joakim Noah (13 points, seven rebounds) and Marco Belinelli (no points in 20 minutes off the bench) from injuries would do that, but such wasn’t the case, as both were trying to get the rust off. Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 21 points, hitting 10-for-18 from the floor.
I wasn’t very aggressive,’’ Belinelli said. “I’m mad at [myself], but maybe that’s part of the game. I didn’t play for two weeks, so maybe that’s part of my injury.’’
Bigger picture? The Bulls (42-34) hurt their chances of trying to run down the Brooklyn Nets for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and grabbing home-court advantage in the first round. They are two games behind the Nets with six to play, and two of those are against Miami and New York.
“We needed this one bad,’’ Noah said. “We let one get away. Just got to regroup and get ready for Tuesday.’’