Following an awful first-half performance, the Bulls (47-32) stormed back from being down as many as 18 points to knock off the Pistons (29-51), 106-98, Friday night at the United Center, prolonging their season-high seven-game winning streak and by virtue of Toronto's loss to New York earlier in the evening, seizing control of third place in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls got off to a flat start, allowing the Pistons to build an early cushion behind their starting backcourt of Brandon Jennings (17 points) and Rodney Stuckey (22 points). The home team also shot a woeful 28.6 percent from the field in the first quarter, while allowing Detroit to shoot a relatively blistering 54.2 percent.
Besides a solid frame from Carlos Boozer (18 points, seven rebounds), the Bulls struggled offensively, leading to a double-digit deficit. At the conclusion of the opening period, they trailed, 28-17.
Backup point guard D.J. Augustin (24 points, six assists) did his best to provide a spark, functioning as both a scorer and playmaker as the Bulls attempted to close the gap. But although fellow reserves Taj Gibson (17 points, four rebounds, two blocked shots) and Nazr Mohammed also made positive contributions, the Pistons continued to keep their hosts at bay, as rookie Peyton Siva made his presence felt.
Detroit's Andre Drummond (26 points, 26 rebounds) was an absolute force on the glass — the second-year center notched 12 points and 19 rebounds in the first half alone — and helped the visitors extend their winning margin. The Bulls remained behind, 56-38, at the intermission.
After the break, the Bulls gradually chipped away at the deficit, led by the forward tandem of Duke products Boozer and Mike Dunleavy Jr. (14 points, six rebounds), as well as starting floor general Kirk Hinrich (10 points, five assists). Dunleavy, in particular, made an impact on the game with his long-range marksmanship, while Hinrich ran the show effectively and also came up with some timely scoring.
For the Pistons, the guard duo of Stuckey and Jennings kept them afloat, but the Bulls managed to make it a single-digit affair as the third quarter went on. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were on the wrong end of a more manageable 80-70 game.
The Bulls continued their push in the fourth quarter, surging past Detroit on a Jimmy Butler (13 points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks) layup with 7:28 remaining in the contest, part of a 15-0 run that saw the tables turn and the hosts acquire some breathing room. Augustin and Gibson were the catalysts, as the latter started to dominate the interior on both ends of the floor, finishing with power and protecting the rim.
All-Star center Joakim Noah (six points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, three blocks), though he wasn't much of a scoring threat in the outing, was a major factor in a much-improved defensive, on the glass and as an offensive facilitator, helping the Bulls boost their advantage to double digits entering the game's stretch run. Detroit made a last-gasp effort at a comeback, but a Gibson baseline jumper with 36.5 seconds left sealed the deal, putting the once counted-out Bulls in a favorable position as the postseason approaches.