AUBURN HILLS, Mich.Who needs Websters to define letdown game when the Bulls, following a high-profile, thrilling triumph over the Heat at home Thursday, exemplified the phrase throughout much of Sunday evenings game against the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills?
Once again playing down to inferior competition, a pattern theyve followed throughout their successful season, the Bulls pulled out a 100-94 overtime road victory, a game in which Derrick Rose showed he was closer to returning to his reigning league MVP level, in part by draining a three-pointer to send the game into the extra period of play.
Rose (24 points, nine assists) quickly proved he was feeling better, as he opened the games scoring with a driving layup, then followed it up with a pull-up jumper, part of an 8-2 Bulls spurt to start the game before Pistons (22-38) head coach Lawrence Frank called a timeout to make adjustments.
Even aside from Rose, the Bulls (46-14) were a well-oiled offensive machine in the early going, as the All-Star point guard tried to return to his previous form, displaying explosiveness, making good decisions and getting in rhythm.
Joakim Noah (20 poins, 17 rebounds) was his active self, particularly on the offensive glass and Rip Hamilton (13 points)the longtime Piston was productive while engaged in a mini-duel with former teammate Rodney Stuckey (32 points)but Detroit didnt let things get out of hand, as second-year big man Greg Monroe (13 points, eight rebounds) kept the hosts within striking distance.
At the conclusion of the opening period, however, the visitors led, 26-19.
The unlikeliest of suspects, Pistons veteran reserve forward Charlie Villanueva (13 points)Luol Dengs high school teammate had played all of 40 minutes for the entire season, due to being in Franks doghouseturned the game around for the home team in the second quarter.
From offensive rebounds, to driving dunks and three-pointers, the disappointing free-agent acquisitionalong with former Bulls guard Ben Gordonfrom three summers ago looked rejuvenated and was the Pistons best offensive threat for the bulk of the period.
Chicago sacrificed the lead to the Pistons, but upon the reinsertion of the Bulls regulars by head coach Tom Thibodeau, the guests to the Palace of Auburn of Hills made a push to reclaim their advantage. Noah continued to kill the Pistons on the offensive boards and Rose again showed progress in his attempt to return to full strength, giving the Bulls a 49-41 edge at the intermission.
After the break, the Bulls lead ballooned to double figures behind the backcourt of Rose and Hamilton, as well as an improved defensive effort. Hamiltons exploits werent unfamiliar to his old team, as the veteran shooting guard knocked down mid-range and three-point jumpers alike, wriggled his way to the basket for layups and using his perpetual-motion style of play, led his defender around a maze of screens, while Rose maintained his aggressiveness in attacking the basket and also distributed the ball effectively as a playmaker.
But behind guards Stuckey, rookie point guard Brandon Knight (13 points, seven assists) and Gordon, a reserve, the Pistons climbed back into the game and tied it on a monster follow-up flush by Maxiell late in the third quarter.
Detroit went on to snatch the lead once again and through three quarters of play, the Bulls trailed by a 66-64 deficit.
Things didnt get any better at the beginning of the final stanza, as the Pistons increased the lead with contributions from reserve forwards Villanueva and Damien Wilkins, infuriating Thibodeau and leading to a Bulls timeout, as well as Roses return to the contest.
Rose made an instant impact as both a scorer and playmakerthough he launched his fourth airball of the contest, a product of rust, as he actually shot the ball fairly proficiently in the gameand combined with sharpshooter Kyle Korvers (13 points) outside marksmanship, the visitors made a run and the game escalated a notch after Villanuevas flagrant foul on Rose in transition, which was ruled a flagrant and led to Rose suffering a cut on his nose and Villanueva being assessed a technical for woofing with Rose after the play.
The officiating became increasing tight as the close-knit affair waned on, with both teams being called for fouls for even the slightest contact as the game entered its stretch run, and despite the Bulls blowing repeated chances to seize opportunities lateCarlos Boozers (15 points, nine rebounds) baseline jumper with under a minute remaining put the Bulls within a single point, but after a crucial defensive stop on the other end, he failed to convert inside; a questionable awarding of a timeout to the Pistons, then a five-second call on Deng on an inbounds play with 15 seconds to go didnt help mattersthe Bulls still had a chance.
Stuckey twice split a pair of free throws with under 20 seconds left and after the his second trip, Rose raced downcourt and knocked down a game-tying triple with 6.4 seconds left to the game at 86 apiece and send the contest into an extra session.
In overtime, Stuckeywho missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer in regulationtried his best to redeem himself for his previous failings, but the big-man tandem of Noah and Boozer delivered as the squads offensive focal points.
After Korvers long bomb made it a two-possession game, Noahs putback layup gave the Bulls a six-point lead with 29.9 seconds on the clock, giving the visitors the necessary breathing room to know that a crisis was averted, although Stuckey would attempt further late-game heroics and Detroit would send a parade of Bulls to the foul line in an attempt to extend the contest.