Bulls hang on after long halftime, control East

Bulls hang on after long halftime, control East
April 2, 2011, 2:27 am
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Friday, April 1, 2011Posted: 9:33 p.m. Updated: 10:48 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

AUBURN HILLS, MICH.On a night celebrating Dennis Rodmana champion in both Chicago and Detroittwo longtime divisional foes battled in Detroit. And while the game didnt exactly bring back memories of the rivalrys heyday, it did come down to the final minutes, with the Bulls pulling out a 101-96 win over the Pistons Friday night. Coupled with Miamis win and Bostons loss on the same night, the Bulls are now 2 games ahead of the Heat and three games ahead of the Celtics with seven games remaining in the regular season.

I take a win any day," observed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "Any way we can get it, Im taking a win. But its fools gold, too. Weve got to make the corrections. The three things we always look at on the road are the defense, the rebounding and the turnovers. We didnt rebound well, we didnt defend well and we turned the ball over.

Concurred Carlos Boozer: We didnt play our best basketball tonight, but well take the win.

Perhaps inspired by the packed housefans and basketball luminaries alike came in droves for the halftime ceremony to retire Rodmans Pistons jerseythe Pistons kept pace with their first-place Central Division and Eastern Conference historical rivals in the early going. Longtime Pistons bookend wings Tayshaun Prince (17 points) and Richard Hamilton (30 points), two of the last links to Detroits last NBA titlist, propelled the home team with their skilled perimeter games.

For the Bulls (55-20), All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (27 points, seven assists)named the Eastern Conference player of the month earlier in the dayLuol Deng (15 points) and Boozer (22 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) were the teams offensive catalysts. But, Thibodeau was dissatisfied with his teams defensive effort, which allowed Detroit (26-49) to keep the game close before tying it at 21-all. Toward the end of the opening period, however, Chicago played at a faster pace, forcing the Pistons into turnovers and capped a quarter-ending spurt with a Rose (13 first-quarter points) three-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining, giving the Bulls a 31-21 lead.

Even on a special night for Pistons fans, the visitors strong close of the opening period seemed to take some of the air out of the Palace and unlike the vehicles Motor City natives have so much pride in, Detroits offense sputtered. Conversely, the Bulls Bench Mob built upon the team's momentum, maintaining the double-digit lead while the Palace crowd could only take solace in video montages of the Bad Boys era.

But even after Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest, Detroit found its competitive spirit again and behind a balanced offensive attack led by Hamilton, the Pistons still attempted to claw their way back into the game, briefly making it a single-digit affair. The Bulls, however, again finished the quarter strong and at the break, they held a 58-47 advantage.

During halftime, the Pistons held an emotional ceremony during which Rodmans jersey was raised to the arena rafters. Afterwards, Rodman reportedly told assembled media that he was informed Thursday of his upcoming induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame at the NCAA Final Four in Houston.

Re-energized after halftime, Detroit scored the third quarters first six points and eventually cut the Bulls' lead to 60-57 at the 8:52 mark, at which point Bulls fans nearly had a collective heart attack, as Rose rolled his left ankle after landing on Boozers foot.

Its fine. I dont feel it right now. I told Jo, usually when guards do it, you bounce right back, but with themwith seven- footers and big menthats a bad injury for them, joked Rose afterwards, referencing his teammate Noahs sprained ankle, which kept him out of the lineup for the second consecutive game. At first, it was scary, but my will to play got me back in that game.

Its a tough game, especially to be on the road. We sat for like 30 or 40 minutes at halftime.

Added Boozer: We came out a little flat. We had the long halftime. We tried to talk about it, but for whatever reason, we couldnt overcome the inevitable. That long halftime took a little wind out of our sails, but we fought through it.

It became a game of who was going to win, who wanted it more.

Thibodeau, however, is a man who doesnt believe in excuses and didnt think the long intermission caused a competitive disadvantage.

Were faced with things like that throughout the course of the year. They had the same halftime. They came out more aggressive than us, said the NBAs Eastern Conference coach of the month for March. We were flat to start the third, then we got the lead and we got loose. We didnt play defense. That was a problem and Rip Hamilton was able to get to the line, so they made up ground on us and rebounding was poor. We had to scratch for it at the end.

Rose stayed in the game after a timeout, even incurring a technical foul, and the visitors rebuffed the hosts push with a 17-5 spurt led by Boozer, giving the Bulls some breathing room en route to creating double-digit separation between the teams again.

Carlos was outstanding. Post-up, making plays, praised Thibodeau. It makes us a different team. We have Carlos in the post, we have Derrick off the dribble and then pick-and-roll, it creates a lot of easy offense for you.

One thing about Carlos, if you cut and youre open, hes going to hit you every time, and I think our players know that. Were doing a better job searching him out, weve got to keep him in rhythm. Hes doing a better job running the floor, hes getting deeper into the paint and hes playing very well right now, so weve got to keep him going.

In addition to his scary moment, Rose also incurred a technical foulangered by not making trips to the foul line when he drew contact on shot attemptsbut that wasnt the least of his worries, as the Pistons battled back as the period waned on. Through three quarters, the Bulls clung to an 80-72 lead.

Detroit initially persisted with its rally in the final stanza, but Chicagos second unit met the challenge and solid play from the likes of Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson, the Bulls rebuilt their prior double-digit advantage midway through the period. The constant swings in momentum continued, as the Pistons repeatedly cut into the deficit, only to have their guests widen the gap.

A fast-break layup by Pistons guard Will Bynum (12 points), a Chicago native, with 2:37 remaining, however, made it a 90-87 contest, threatening the Bulls' once-safe lead in the midst of the games stretch run. After a timeout, the Bulls went to Boozer, who converted a traditional three-point play with 2:22 to play, giving the Bulls a six-point lead.

The teams exchanged turnovers on the next two possessions and after a pair of Hamilton free throws cut the Bulls lead to a four-point margin, veteran Kurt Thomas came up with a key offensive rebound, then knocked down a baseline jumper with 57.7 seconds left, making it a 95-89 contest in Chicagos favor.

When I was coming out, they called me Dennis Rodman with a jumpshot, joked Thomas, a native of the same Dallas neighborhood where Rodman was raised. Its definitely great to see his number retired, but the bottom line is we wanted to get the win.

Added Thibodeau: Hes just smart, tough. Hes going to make big plays, he plays great defense all the time for you, he sets great screens and is always ready. He had not been playing a lot, Jo goes down, throw him right in and hes ready to go.

An exchange of baskets ensued, leading to Hamilton nailing a triple with 24.1 seconds on the clock, once again cutting the Bulls lead to just three points. C.J. Watson hit a pair of foul shots with 20.5 seconds to go and although the teams exchanged turnovers on each of their next two possessions before a Bynum layup, Rose sealed the deal by hitting two attempts from the charity stripe.

It might sound crazy, but Im just worried about over here, said Rose, after being informed of the Celtics loss. Our destinys in our hands.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.