AUBURN HILLS, MICH.—Even the return of All-Star center Joakim Noah to the lineup couldn’t prevent something that hadn’t occurred since Dec. 23, 2008, from happening: the Pistons beat the Bulls.
In a lackluster effort, after leading throughout the first quarter, the Bulls (42-34) couldn’t contend with the balanced Detroit (26-52) attack and fell, 99-85, Sunday night at the Palace at Auburn Hills.
Facing their Central Division rival, a team they had defeated in 18 consecutive meetings, the Bulls jumped out to a quick start, with balanced scoring leading the way.
Noah (13, points, seven rebounds, three assists), in his first game back in the lineup after missing eight consecutive games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, was his typically active self in the early going, as he made his presence felt on the glass and pushed the ball in transition.
The visitors built a double-digit advantage behind the play of Carlos Boozer (21 points, 10 rebounds) , Jimmy Butler (14 points) and Nate Robinson (18 points)—the backup point guard started alongside starter Kirk Hinrich, while the second-year swingman replaced All-Star Luol Deng, who was out with a right-hip injury, at small forward—as well as their usual stingy defense.
Despite strong late-period play by Hinrich, Detroit, propelled by steady power forward Greg Monroe (11 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and scoring guard Rodney Stuckey (14 points), mounted a comeback to narrow the gap, although the Bulls still maintained a 26-23 lead through a quarter of play.
The Pistons’ momentum carried over to the second quarter, as varied contributions—the likes of reserves Charlie Villaneuva (12 points), Jonas Jerebko (17 points, nine rebounds) and rookie Khris Middleton (10 points) each got on the board—helped the hosts overtake their guests.
Detroit built a slim cushion, as the Bulls—who fielded an unconventional lineup for a stretch, as players returned from injury—weren’t as efficient offensively and suffered from lapses on the defensive end.
Noah, who had a minutes limit, didn’t receive any first-half playing time after his initial stint—reserve forward Vladimir Radmanovic continued to see action, after only recently being inserted into the rotation because of the team’s myriad injuries—and while the events were unconnected, the Bulls’ deficit continued to grow, as nine Pistons made their way into the scoring column to spark the home team.
Determined play from the forward duo of Boozer and Butler, as well as solid interior minutes from backup center Nazr Mohammed helped ensure that the visitors weren’t in too big a hole, but due to an individual spurt by Pistons guard Brandon Knight (20 points, five assists), the Bulls trailed, 50-46, at the intermission.
After the break, Noah started off the second half by scoring the Bulls’ first six points, although the scoring provided by the backcourt of Knight and Stuckey didn’t permit the visitors to make much headway.
After Noah exited, Boozer became the Bulls’ focal point offensively and while he was effective, Detroit maintained its advantage, as the guests struggled with turnover issues.
The hosts extended their winning margin to double figures as the period continued, with Monroe beginning to carry some of the offensive burden and the Bulls unable to stop the Pistons’ scoring attack.
Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls remained behind, 75-67, following a Boozer layup to beat the third-quarter buzzer.
Hinrich’s scrappy play helped ensure that the Pistons’ lead didn’t balloon to an unmanageable margin of separation at the outset of the fourth quarter, but repeated defensive lapses prompted a Bulls timeout early in the period, as well as Noah’s return to the contest.
Despite Robinson’s instant offense and Noah’s energy on both ends of the floor, the Pistons kept a stranglehold on the contest, as the duo of Jerebko and Villanueva, not to mention the Bulls continuing to be plagued with ball-security problems both factored into the home team’s momentum.
As the game entered its stretch run, Detroit cruised to victory, leading to deep reserves like rookie point guard Marquis Teague and forward Malcolm Thomas, who is on a 10-day contract, to see garbage minutes.
In addition to their streak against the Pistons ending, the Bulls also relinquished their two-year reign of the division to the Pacers, who clinched the Central with the loss.