Just when it seemed like the doldrums brought on in the aftermath of the disastrous “Circus Trip” were a thing of the past, another lackluster performance came to the surface Saturday night at the United Center, as the undermanned Bulls (8-10), lacking their two primary scoring threats, lost to the Pistons (10-10), 92-75, in Detroit’s first win in Chicago since 2006.
The forward tandem of Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson (21 points, 10 rebounds)—the latter, usually the former’s understudy, started at small forward in place of injured All-Star Luol Deng, who missed the contest due to a lingering sore left Achilles’—were the Bulls’ protagonists in the early going, sparking a slim lead in the opening minutes of the game. The Pistons’ own duo of point guard Brandon Jennings (33 points) and power forward Greg Monroe (eight points, 12 rebounds) kept the visitors close, however, and eventually enabled Detroit to seize the lead, as reserve swingman Kyle Singler provided a spark off the bench.
Veteran backup Mike Dunleavy Jr. (16 points, six rebounds, four assists) hit a buzzer-beating scoop shot to end the first quarter, but the Bulls still trailed, 25-24.
The opening-period success of Dunleavy and Gibson carried over to the second quarter, as the pair of reserves served as offensive catalysts as the Bulls regained the lead by a slight margin. Backup point guard Marquis Teague (season-high 10 points) also fared well, but the Pistons fought back, resulting in an affair deadlocked at 47 apiece at the intermission.
After the break, the Pistons asserted themselves and behind the backcourt of Jennings and rookie shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, took the upper hand, as the Bulls struggled to thrive offensively. Detroit gradually built a double-digit lead, with the likes of backup center Josh Harrellson (10 points) making contributions, as the Bulls endured ball-security issues and only Gibson remained consistent scoring threat, leading to a 71-56 deficit heading into the final stanza after shooting 4-for-20 from the field and committing seven turnovers in the third quarter.
The Dunleavy-Gibson combination continued to be the Bulls’ best strategy, though rookie swingman Tony Snell and All-Star center Joakim Noah provided solid efforts, even if it wasn’t reflected in their numbers. But the Pistons did enough to remain in control, as Jennings was an effective go-to guy and while the athletic frontcourt of Monroe, Josh Smith (10 rebounds) and Andre Drummond (14 rebounds) wasn’t a scoring juggernaut, they helped win the battle of the boards, something the Bulls are used to doing.
As the game entered its stretch run, the Bulls simply couldn’t close the wider margin of separation, as their dismal offensive showing persisted and Jennings, in particular, was absolutely on fire shooting the ball, ensuring that the momentum from Thursday night’s triumphant win over Miami didn’t carry over, courtesy of a 33.3 shooting percentage.